In Va., Huckabee Again Shows Strength on Right

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) addresses his supporters from Alexandria, Va. after Tuesday's Potomac primary election results filter in. Video by AP
By Michael D. Shear and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) swept Republican primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District last night, defeating former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and adding to his vast delegate lead in the race to become his party's presidential nominee.

But even as he dominated the Potomac Primary, McCain lost conservatives in Virginia, as he has across the South and parts of the Midwest -- trailing Huckabee among that group and evangelicals as he attempts to unite a fractured Republican Party behind his candidacy.

Speaking to a few hundred supporters at a victory rally in Old Town Alexandria, McCain echoed Democrat Barack Obama, saying he was "fired up and ready to go." But he also hinted at a possible face-off with the senator from Illinois in the fall, saying Obama's message of hope is not enough.

"Hope, my friends, is a powerful thing," he told the crowd, sounding like Obama's Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), when he added: "To encourage a country with only rhetoric, rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people, is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude."

McCain did not directly address his challenge among conservatives but said: "I will not confine myself to the comfort of speaking only to those who agree with me. I will make my case to all the people."

Huckabee yesterday tapped into conservative discontent about McCain's moderate positions on immigration, campaign finance, taxes and energy. Among conservative voters in Virginia, Huckabee won by large margins, according to exit polls, though McCain carried the group in Maryland.

In Little Rock, Huckabee again refused to concede the race to his rival. He said the results showed "there's still a real sense in the Republican Party, a desire to have a choice, a desire to make sure voters who want a solid conservative, absolutely pro-life candidate still exist." Huckabee added that "the nomination is not secure until somebody has 1,191 delegates. That has not yet happened."

Still, Huckabee acknowledged that he could no longer become the party's standard-bearer by winning delegates in the upcoming contests. Instead, he said victory "may have to happen at a convention."

"We're disappointed, but we're not knocked out," Huckabee told reporters.

Despite trailing far behind in the delegate race, Huckabee has spent the past 10 days embarrassing the senator with election victories, including taking two of three contests Saturday. Before yesterday, seven states declared themselves unwilling to fall in line behind a wave of endorsements for McCain by members of the Republican establishment.

But McCain's wins last night, fueled by huge vote totals in Northern Virginia and in Maryland's Washington suburbs, gave him fresh ammunition to claim the prize he has sought twice this decade. The delegates he added gave him more than 800 of the 1,191 he needs to become the nominee when Republicans gather this summer at their convention in Minneapolis.

In his speech, McCain praised Huckabee's skills as a "communicator and advocate" and said "he certainly keeps things interesting -- a little too interesting at times tonight, I must confess."

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