News stations around the nation Saturday night questioned Mike Huckabee’s chances of winning the White House after he lost the South Carolina primary by three percentage points — about 15,000 votes — to John McCain. Pundits predicted that the lack of power of the evangelical vote in South Carolina translates to a lack of authority in other southern states as well. “If he couldn’t win in South Carolina where 50% of the voters are evangelical, then where can he?” they asked.
Exit polls suggest that it may not be a monolithic race in each state. For each issue that Huckabee dominated in the polls, McCain was there to even it out in another issue. Fourty-three percent of South Carolina voters said that Huckabee shared their values more than McCain, but of the 23% who said experience mattered most McCain took 67%. Pundits and pollsters have been analyzing values voters and independents claiming that one group will influence the race, South Carolina proved this theory incorrect.
Huckabee said its not over: “Politics in particular this year is not an event but a process, the process is far, far from over.” While accepting his narrow defeat Huckabee thanked McCain for running a “civil and good and decent campaign.”
“We ran a campaign with out attacking each other,” he said speaking of his fiercest competitor, Mitt Romney who has been accused by both Huckabee and McCain for running a dirty race.
Earlier Saturday Romney won the Nevada GOP caucuses with little opposition, taking 51% of the votes. Ron Paul, a candidate that has received very little validation in the polls, came in second with 13% confirming the lack of contest. Romney remains at the top of the pack with now 72 delegates. McCain has 38 and Huckabee 29.
“Its took us awhile — but what is eight years among friends?” said McCain during his victory speech, referring to his loss against George W. Bush in 2000.
South Carolina was a big win for McCain. Syndicated columnist Bob Novak on FOX News predicted a huge gravitation toward McCain after South Carolina, with polls changing in his favor giving him a boost in the next GOP primary in Florida. Novak believes that if South Carolinians have forgiven McCain for his immigration policies then the issue has been mollified. “If he had not solved the immigration issue he could not have won in South Carolina,” said Novak
The economy proved to be the biggest issue for voters in South Carolina where McCain and Huckabee tied in the exit polls with 32%. Immigration came in second, where Huckabee took 33% of those voters compared to the 24% who chose McCain. Of the 16% who think the War in Iraq is most important, McCain took over half of those votes with 52%.
Attention now shifts to Florida where Romney, McCain, Huckabee and Giuliani will duke it out. Florida’s former governor Jeb Bush is expected to endorse Romney but McCain has dominated the opinion polls even before his South Carolina victory. Giuliani (with a delegate count of 2) has sat tight in Florida bypassing campaigning in other states hoping to jump in the last leg of round one. Forty percent of Florida voters have already voted absentee, possibly nullifying any momentum that McCain’s campaigning would hope for after South Carolina.
“Right now it looks to me that it’s likely that McCain will get the nomination,” said Novak. “The guy that we were really looking for was Thompson — but Fred just didn’t have it.”
Thompson saw results from his stellar performance in last weeks GOP debate in South Carolina placing him not far behind Romney in the polls in fourth place. “I think Thompson will be gone, so we will have three man deal for Florida,” said Novak who discounts Giuliani as a threat to McCain, Romney and Hucakbee.
If Rudy does well in Florida and picks up before Super Tuesday it would seem that these early state primaries have been much ado about nothing.
Saturday night Duncan Hunter embraced the reality of his failing campaign and became the fourth Republican candidate to drop out of the running.