Saturday, January 19, 2008

John McCain Wins South Carolina Primary!

John McCain won the South Carolina Republican primary tonight, in an election that, while close, never saw the Arizona Senator trailing in the vote count.

McCain's victory speech made an effort to reach out to all South Carolinians who cast a vote, not just for their candidate, but in support of the American way.

McCain now heads to the next round of voting with a significant win over Mike Huckabee, who had the backing of at least half of the Palmetto State's evangelical voters. The former Arkansas governor's failure to win tonight raises serious questions as to his campaign's national viability.

McCain has recaptured the campaign's momentum. Mitt Romney's win in the Nevada caucuses today means that the race is likely to unfold as a two-man contest between McCain and the former Massachusetts governor.

Fred Thompson's third place showing in South Carolina is a huge disappointment for the former Tennessee Senator, who staked his chances on a big win in the country's first Southern primary. Rudy Giuliani's been out of the limelight for weeks. With the dramatic fortunes of the race passing him by, the former New York mayor's election strategy appears increasingly dangerous.

The New York Times has more details:

Senator John McCain staved off a spirited challenge by former Gov. Mike Huckabee to win the South Carolina primary on Saturday, exorcising the ghosts of the attack-filled primary here that derailed his presidential hopes eight years ago.

Mr. McCain’s victory here, on top of his win earlier this month in New Hampshire, capped a remarkable comeback for a campaign that was all but written off six months ago. In an unusually fluid Republican field, his campaign said it hoped the victory would give Mr. McCain a head of steam going into the Jan. 29 Florida primary and the nationwide series of nominating contests on Feb. 5.

“It took us a while, but what’s eight years among friends?” Mr. McCain said at a boisterous victory celebration that broke out into shouts of “Mac is back! Mac is back!”

Mr. McCain did best among voters who said experience was the most important quality in a candidate, among those who said the Iraq war and terrorism were their top concerns and among the state’s veterans, who made up a quarter of the vote. He ran about even with Mr. Huckabee, who pressed a populist message here, among the many voters who said their top concern in the election was the economy.

Mr. Huckabee’s loss in a southern state with a strong turnout of religious voters was a setback to his campaign as it heads toward potentially less hospitable states. Nearly 60 percent of the voters in South Carolina identified themselves in exit polls as evangelical Christians, a group that was heavily courted by Mr. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher. And while Mr. Huckabee captured 4 in 10 of their votes, Mr. McCain also made inroads with the group, capturing more than a quarter of their vote.

With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. McCain, of Arizona, led with 33 percent of the vote, just ahead of Mr. Huckabee’s 30 percent.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney, who coasted to an easy victory earlier on Saturday in the Nevada caucuses, fell to fourth place behind Fred Thompson, the former senator of Tennessee.

A triumphant Mr. McCain greeted cheering supporters in Charleston, where he thanked South Carolina voters “for bringing us across the finish line first in the first-in-the-south primary.”

Here's more, on the demographics of the vote:

While open to all voters, the primary was dominated by Republicans and conservatives. Eight in 10 voters described themselves as Republicans (up from six in 10 in the 2000 primary), and more than half were white evangelical Christians.

About 45 percent of Mr. Huckabee’s supporters described themselves as very conservative, while about the same number of Mr. McCain’s supporters said they were moderate or liberal, according to a poll conducted as people left polling places around the state.

Most of Mr. Huckabee’s supporters described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, and most said they attended religious services at least once a week. Six in 10 Huckabee supporters said it mattered a great deal that a presidential candidate shared their religious beliefs.

On the matter of electability, more voters said Mr. McCain had the best chance of winning the general election in November than any of the other candidates. But voters were divided between Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee over who was most likely to bring change to the country.

Voters said they were more concerned about the nation’s economy than they were about illegal immigration, the war in Iraq or terrorism.

They said it is more important that the eventual nominee shares their values than that he has the right experience or is forthright or is likely to beat a Democrat in the fall, according to a poll conducted as people left polling places around the state.

Two-thirds of the voters say their own family’s finances are holding steady, while about one in ten say they are falling behind. More than a third of those who participated in the poll taken as voters left polling places said it matters a great deal to their vote that a candidate share their religious beliefs. More than 4 in 10 say abortion should be illegal in most cases and another 3 in 10 say it should be illegal in all cases.

Congratulations to John McCain!

I'll have more analysis as the campaign unfolds.

Photo Credit: New York Times