Correction to This Article
The Page One story incorrectly said that Tuesday's Virginia Republican primary will be open only to registered Republicans. Virginia holds open primaries, so any registered voter may cast either a Democratic or a Republican ballot.

Huckabee Complicates GOP Contest

Presidential candidate former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) addresses his supporters after the Super Tuesday primary election results filter in. Video by AP
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

After his disappointing showing in South Carolina, Mike Huckabee was supposed to be a spent force. The former Arkansas governor's triumph in the Iowa caucuses would be relegated to the history books and deemed no more significant than Christian evangelist Pat Robertson's defeat of George H.W. Bush in the Hawkeye State two decades before.

But Huckabee stormed back into the race yesterday with wins not just in his home state of Arkansas but also in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and West Virginia, complicating the race for the Republican nomination all over again.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had expected to emerge from Super Tuesday with the nomination virtually locked up, was left facing still more questions about his ability to win in deep red Republican states. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was left wondering why he could not win the conservative votes McCain was losing.

"Sometimes one small, smooth stone is more effective than a suit of armor," Huckabee told cheering supporters in Little Rock. "We're still on our feet, and much to the amazement of many, we're getting there, folks, we're getting there."

Even after his victory in Iowa last month, Huckabee has been running his campaign on vapors. Ed Rollins, Huckabee's chief political strategist, said he would be astonished if Huckabee has spent more than $10 million on his candidacy.

Over the past weeks, Romney has said repeatedly that Huckabee was more a nuisance than a threat, a candidate who should drop out of the race and leave it to the only two Republicans who could reasonably claim to be contenders for the nomination. Huckabee complained during last week's California debate that he was being treated as a third wheel.

But Huckabee focused his limited resources almost exclusively on the Southeast, with old-fashioned, retail politicking. He presented himself as the only true social conservative in the race, jabbing at Romney as a flip-flopper as he pulled conservatives disenchanted with McCain into his orbit.

"Conservatives had the opportunity to pick a real conservative in the South," Rollins said. "And they did."

Even as McCain was claiming the mantle of front-runner in his victory speech last night, he was compelled to congratulate Huckabee on his sweep of the South. "Not for the first time, he surprised the rest of us," McCain said.

Romney supporters and aides continued to show Huckabee little respect despite the Super Tuesday victories. Romney, a Mormon, was never going to win the Southern Baptist Southeast, one senior Huckabee strategist said. But Huckabee has few remaining states where the demographics favor him: Only Mississippi is waiting to vote in the Deep South.

"He deserves credit for hanging in there and being the winsome personality he's been. We've all enjoyed him," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Romney backer. "But everybody knows Mike is not going to be in the final two. That hasn't changed."

Indeed, to Romney aides, Huckabee's victories were simply an ominous sign for McCain, who continues to lose the vote of self-described conservatives.

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