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February 10, 2008

Newsweek: McCain Leads Huckabee, Democrats Split

I'm at Reagan National in DC, waiting for the next two hours to fly back to sub-zero temperatures in Minneapolis. Thankfully, the airport has begun to install more electrical outlets at the gates, which allows me to conserve battery life on the laptop while I pass the time. Newsweek also helps by publishing a poll today in the all-but-finished Republican primary race, showing John McCain with a commanding national lead over Mike Huckabee after the Mitt Romney withdrawal:

McCain was widely perceived to have practically sealed the Republican presidential nomination Thursday when his chief rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, suspended his presidential campaign. Indeed, the senator from Arizona leads the GOP race with 51 percent of registered Republican voters and those leaning toward the GOP, according to the poll, which is based on telephone interviews with 1,394 registered voters Feb. 6-7. Huckabee draws 32 percent support, followed by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, with 6 percent. When voters were asked to choose between just McCain and Huckabee, McCain wins out by 20 points, 57 to 37 percent. A full three quarters (76 percent) of all Republicans and two thirds (69 percent) of conservatives say they would be happy with McCain as the nominee--indicating that the maverick's troubles with the right might not run as deep as some have suggested.

Still, McCain is not home free on that score. By a large margin, self-described conservatives are more likely to see Huckabee, not McCain, as the true conservative (53 percent to 22 percent). Huckabee's religious credibility appears to be a key factor in his appeal among evangelical voters. In a head-to-head contest with the ordained Southern Baptist minister, McCain wins the moderate-to-liberal vote by a large margin (73 percent to 25 percent) but only manages a marginal lead among conservatives (49 percent to 43 percent). Huckabee wins the evangelical vote by a 10-point margin (54 percent to 44 percent), but McCain wins the non-evangelical vote by an even wider one (66 percent to 26 percent).

I'd be tempted to cast the conservative split between Huckabee and McCain a little more positively towards the latter. McCain leads Huckabee among self-described conservatives, a result that should surprise a few readers. He also comes within 10 points among evangelicals -- against a Baptist minister. That doesn't exactly come across as weakness.

The results for Democrats brings much less clarity. Obama leads Hillary 42% to 41%, with an astounding 17% of Democratic voters undecided at this late stage. He inspires more (63%-25%); she generates more confidence in getting things accomplished (50%-31%). She beats Obama among Democrats by five points, but he beats her among independents by 18 points.

That's the danger for Democrats in choosing Hillary. The independents will decide the election, as they almost always do, and the Republicans have already all but nominated the candidate who appeals to them most. If the Democrats select Hillary -- especially with a superdelegate Deus ex machina process that reverses an Obama lead among pledged delegates -- they can kiss that demographic goodbye. Not only would that give McCain and the Republicans a tremendous boost towards holding the White House, it could have implications for the Congressional race as well.

UPDATE: McCain may be heading to a blowout win in the South that should put an end to Huckabee's hopes for a miracle:

Barack Obama and John McCain may be cruising toward blowout wins in Virginia's presidential primary Tuesday. ....

Among the Republicans McCain is up 55 percent to 27 percent, over his remaining major rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. With 5 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul is a distant third.

McCain has broad appeal within the GOP, even outpolling Huckabee among religious conservatives -- a key voter bloc for Huckabee. McCain leads Huckabee 43 percent to 41 percent among self-described evangelical Christians. The survey shows Obama lifted by massive support among African-Americans. Further, his strength is concentrated in the urban-suburban crescent that spans from outside Washington to Virginia Beach and dominates the state's politics.

If Huckabee loses a Southern state by over 20 points, that should signal him to end the effort.


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