McCain Beats Huckabee in S. Carolina; Clinton and Romney Win in Nevada

Presidential candidates campaigned up until the last minute to gain votes in the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday, January 19, 2008.
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan. 19 -- Sen. John McCain conquered the South Carolina Republican primary Saturday, giving his once-embattled presidential campaign another significant boost and helping to wipe away bitter memories of his defeat here eight years ago.

McCain (Ariz.) opened his victory speech in Charleston by alluding to that loss. "It took us a while, but what's eight years among friends?" he said, a big smile crossing his face.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, looking for a victory in the first Southern primary of the 2008 nomination battle, finished second to McCain, but not getting a victory in this conservative state is a blow to his underdog hopes of winning the GOP nomination.

Earlier in the day in Nevada, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney easily won the Republican caucuses. It was his second victory in five days and kept alive a candidacy that was on life support after early losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney finished fourth in South Carolina.

The candidates move on to Florida, whose Jan. 29 primary could prove pivotal in shaping what has been a confused and volatile Republican nomination battle. McCain has the opportunity to take control of the Republican race: A victory there would establish him as the clear front-runner heading toward Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, when nearly two dozen states will hold contests.

McCain won South Carolina with about 33 percent of the vote, to Huckabee's 30 percent. With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) was third with 16 percent, and Romney was fourth with 15 percent. Turnout was well below that of the 2000 GOP primary, when more than 550,000 participated.

McCain's victory in South Carolina was especially sweet after his experience in 2000, when he was soundly defeated by then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush after a nasty contest marred by negative campaigning and scurrilous underground attacks aimed at the senator.

"I am aware that for the last 28 years, the winner of the South Carolina primary has been the nominee of our party," McCain said. "We have a ways to go, of course. There are some tough contests ahead, starting tomorrow in the state of Florida. But, my friends, we are well on our way tonight. And I feel very good about our chances."

In a concession speech in Columbia, Huckabee praised McCain for running a "civil and good and decent campaign." Noting that he had hoped for a victory Saturday, he sought to lift up his disappointed supporters by saying, "The path to the White House is not ending here tonight. We're resetting the clock. . . . We have learned, and tomorrow, after a little bit of sleep, we wake up to fight the battle yet again and yet again."

Romney began his day in Nevada and was already in Florida as the returns from South Carolina were being counted. "This is as good as it gets," he told supporters in Jacksonville. "We won that one handily today," he added. "I'm really pleased."

Seeking to maximize victories in two Western states -- Nevada and Wyoming -- where there was minimal competition among Republican candidates, Romney said: "This is a campaign that does intend to participate across the country. We're not concentrating on just one region or a few states."

Thompson delivered a speech that baffled even some supporters. Normally laid-back, he thundered on for 10 minutes in language that seemed to point to a withdrawal statement. But he abruptly ended the speech with "God bless you!" and walked off the stage.

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