(CNN) — Louisiana Republicans looking for a candidate who shares their values or says what he believes cast their ballots for former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee during Saturday’s GOP primary, exit polls showed.
Voted for Huckabee or voted against Joe McLiebercain?
Original DVD cover.
Huckabee was looking for another Southern win after picking up four Southern states on Super Tuesday — along with evidence he may be benefiting from Mitt Romney’s decision this week to suspend his campaign.
Huckabee picked up all 36 GOP delegates in Kansas Saturday, handily beating McCain in that state’s caucuses with 60 percent of the vote to McCain’s 24 percent.
He still trails McCain in delegates 714-214 — and McCain is just over 400 votes shy of securing the nomination.
But McCain has run afoul of many conservative voters, who object to his stands on illegal immigration and campaign finance reform. Those voters have typically sided with Romney in the early contests. With Romney out of the race, Huckabee was hoping to pick up those voters.
Kansas was one “of the contests where we’ve gone head-to-head with Sen. McCain,” Huckabee told reporters after the results were in. “When we’ve done that, we have overwhelming conservative votes.”
In Louisiana, early exit polls show nearly half of the state’s Republican voters consider themselves “very conservative,” and more than half of those went for Huckabee with McCain picking up less than a third. And among born-again or evangelical Christians, Huckabee bested McCain by a 57-33 percent margin.
But the 26 percent of voters who said they were “somewhat conservative” were evenly split between the two, at 44 percent each. McCain polled better among voters with a negative view of the Bush administration.
WASHINGTON – When John McCain’s campaign shifts gears for the November election, the GOP’s all-but-assured nominee will be on a tightrope, balancing his new role as party leader against his longtime role as party insurgent.
But to compete and win against the eventual Democratic nominee, McCain will need both roles, say political analysts, and his campaign acknowledges it’s a balancing act that he must master.
Last night’s results showed how much McCain has to do to make it work, especially to win over GOP conservatives who harbor anger at him for his self-proclaimed maverick ways.
Conservative and former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who swept the South last Tuesday, yesterday won 60 percent of the vote in Kansas caucuses – picking up all 36 delegates at stake – to McCain’s 24 percent.
McCain appears to be in little danger of losing his status as the presumptive nominee – chief rival Mitt Romney has dropped out and Ron Paul yesterday said he is trimming back his campaign to focus on his congressional seat.
Huckabee acknowledges he’s too far behind in delegates to pose a serious challenge, and some argue by staying in the race he keeps McCain in the national conversation, which otherwise would be focused totally on the Democratic fight.
Still, McCain must learn to juggle two key elements: embracing and distancing himself from President George W. Bush, and energizing his conservative base while retaining his appeal to independents.
“His attractiveness is based entirely on his biography and authenticity,” said Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.
Mann questioned whether McCain can maintain support among independents and Democrats considering his positions on Iraq and taxes. “He . . . hardly represents the post-Bush change for which Americans clamor,” Mann said.
Already Clinton and the Democratic National Committee have indicated they will point out “flip-flops” on issues and try to tie McCain directly to the unpopular Bush. “A vote for John McCain,” said DNC spokesman Damien LaVera this week, “is a vote for a third Bush term.”