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Divergent fates

Different GOP Politics, Rules Help Shape Md. and Va. Contests

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Presidential candidate former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) addresses his supporters from Little rock, Ark. after Tuesday's Potomac primary election results filter in. Video by AP

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By John Wagner and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Virginia, Mike Huckabee at least made a contest of it with John McCain, the Republicans' presumptive nominee, while across the Potomac River in Maryland, he was an also-ran.

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The divergent fates of Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, spoke to the differences between GOP politics in the two states and the Arizona senator's rocky history with Virginia. They also were partly attributable to different rules governing the two contests, analysts said.

McCain was leading Huckabee, 50.3 percent to 40.4 percent, with almost all precincts reporting in Virginia. In Maryland, exit polls suggested that the margin could be two or three times as large.

Appearing in Little Rock last night, Huckabee pointed to his relatively strong showing in Virginia to argue that the party's base is rallying around him, saying it reinforced his decision to continue in the race despite McCain's almost insurmountable lead in delegates.

"It shows 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," said Huckabee, who asserted that his campaign was headed for a few "intense weeks" ahead.

In Virginia, Huckabee ran strongest in rural western Virginia, the state's Bible Belt.

Exit polls showed that 46 percent of Virginia voters identified themselves as evangelicals, and they voted overwhelmingly for Huckabee over McCain: 60 percent to 31 percent.

In Maryland, a smaller percentage of self-identified evangelicals, 35 percent, participated in the primary. And among those who did vote, Huckabee was not as dominant. In Maryland, Huckabee led among evangelicals, 52 percent to 35 percent.

"There's no comparable evangelical base in Maryland," said Allan J. Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University.

Huckabee was also dominant in Virginia among self-described conservatives, leading 51 percent to 38 percent, according to exit polls.

In Maryland, McCain drew a larger share of self-described conservatives than Huckabee, 43 percent to 36 percent.

"The Virginia Republican Party is much more conservative than even the conservative wing of the Maryland Republican Party," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.


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