Huckabee Wins Help to Define Republican Race

Even without any more wins, the underdog has made an impact

Huckabee shows strength, but it's unlikely that he can win.

Huckabee shows strength, but it's unlikely that he can win.

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Mike Huckabee's five-state victory on Super Tuesday surprised nearly everyone but, perhaps, the Arkansas governor himself. Despite his wins, the Baptist preacher and bass-guitar player's campaign for the Republican nomination may have already reached its highest note.

Though Huckabee's wins across the South showed his strength as a vote getter in a crucial region of the country, the simple delegate math makes it all but impossible for him to secure the party nomination, political analysts say.

But Mitt Romney's decision to drop out last Thursday showed the power an underdog can have in tipping the balance of the race. "He's in a position to be very influential," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "But he's not going to be the nominee."

The conservative factor. Part of the problem for Huckabee is the demographics of the states in the upcoming primaries. His victories in West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas have relied heavily—though not exclusively—on socially conservative and evangelical Christians, a group more limited in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Maryland. Exit polls showed that Huckabee voters largely opposed abortion and attended church, although Huckabee did draw more independents than McCain did in all but one of his victory states, Tennessee.

The next state with a solidly conservative base is Mississippi, which doesn't have an election until March 11. (The primary in Louisiana, which also has a strong evangelical voting bloc, is largely a beauty contest unless any one candidate gets more than half the vote.)

But Huckabee's campaign is hardly sitting still. His backers say the big win has generated more interest. He has planned visits to many of the upcoming states and is trying to translate his win into financial fuel for his campaign.

"We certainly expect to stay on," says Alice Stewart, campaign spokesperson. "Governor Huckabee has never been a quitter."

Huckabee's numbers in states like Missouri, where he came in second with 32 percent of the vote, made sure that McCain, not Romney, took the lead. Ultimately, Huckabee's vote totals helped to push Romney out of the race for good.

What's more, Huckabee's resurgence last week showed the continued strength of the evangelicals, a voting bloc that front-runner John McCain has had trouble reaching. By pulling in the votes on a shoestring budget, Huckabee's campaign, political analysts say, has positioned him well for a possible vice presidential slot—or at least as a kingmaker at the party's convention. (For the record, his campaign says he's still running for the No. 1 slot.)

Of course, part of the lesson from Super Tuesday is that Huckabee's campaign is full of surprises. "Huckabee has confounded political prognosticators from Day 1," says Keith Haller, head of the Maryland-based polling company Potomac Inc. "You don't want to underestimate him, that's for sure."