McCain Dominates Big States
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Sen. John McCain surged closer toward the Republican nomination yesterday by capturing the biggest Super Tuesday states, including California, but failed to knock out his rivals, who deprived him of victories across GOP strongholds in the South and West.
As millions of Republicans went to the polls in 21 states, the senator from Arizona racked up hundreds of delegates on the strength of winner-take-all primaries in the Northeast and elsewhere. But his inability to win in more than half of the states voting yesterday complicated his hopes of rallying the party behind his candidacy.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee scored a surprising sweep of his native South, while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney picked up a number of states in the West but fell short in critical battlegrounds that would have established him as McCain's primary challenger. Huckabee and Romney vowed last night to stay in the race as it moves to Virginia, Maryland and the District on Tuesday.
The multiple-front clash represented a virtual national primary as Republicans voted to choose a standard-bearer, with more states voting at once than in any other GOP nomination battle. McCain appeared poised to emerge with roughly half of the 1,191 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, a huge one-day take after an epic, year-long fight to define the Republican Party in a post-George W. Bush era.
McCain easily captured New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, after being endorsed by former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a defeated rival. McCain also won Missouri, Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma and Delaware. His victory in California appeared to be by a large margin, though Romney will probably collect a sizable share of the state's delegates because they are apportioned by congressional district.
Speaking to supporters in Phoenix even before California's results were announced, McCain said, "We won some of the biggest states in the country," and added, "Tonight, I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican Party front-runner for the nomination of president of the United States." He paused before adding, "And I don't really mind it one bit."
McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who has carved out a career as a blunt-talking maverick on Capitol Hill, moved closer to the presidential prize he has been seeking for more than a decade by earning support across the country. But the voting made clear that serious challenges remain for McCain: to clear the field of rivals who question his commitment to conservative ideology, and to consolidate a fractured party.
Romney and Huckabee together kept at least 11 states out of McCain's column, and each claimed to be the alternative to the front-runner, who struggled throughout the day to appeal to conservatives. "Over the past few days, a lot of people have been saying this is a two-man race," Huckabee told supporters last night in Little Rock. "And you know what? It is. And we're in it."
Beside his home state of Arkansas, Huckabee prevailed in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. He also emerged victorious at a West Virginia convention with the help of McCain supporters, who on a second ballot threw their support to the former Arkansas governor to block a victory by Romney.
After surging into the top tier of candidates by winning the Iowa caucuses last month, Huckabee had struggled to win elsewhere. But his campaign was energized yesterday by the same evangelical voters who supported him in the Hawkeye State. Still, his path to the nomination appeared difficult once the campaign leaves the Deep South.
"Huck obviously has had a big night," said Steve Schmidt, a top adviser to McCain, who has largely viewed Romney as his chief competition for the past month. "Mitt had a very bad night. You can't say you're 'Mr. Conservative' and not win the South."
Romney won his home state of Massachusetts, as well as Utah -- home to his Mormon Church -- Minnesota, Montana, Colorado and North Dakota. But despite late polls that had suggested a close race in California and a last-minute campaign trip there, Romney did not win in the most populous state.