MAC IS BACK, AGAIN:

The conservatives don’t like him so much: Despite the strong showing by McCain, exit polling indicates that the senator continues to have trouble attracting support from evangelicals and other social conservatives who form a crucial part of the Republican base. In New Jersey, for example, most of McCain’s support came from self-identified independents and moderates, according to exit polls. The exit polls show McCain leading among independents in most other states, while Huckabee is leading or at least competitive among evangelicals in several states. Self-described conservatives have shown more varied tastes, splitting among the three candidates in different states, the polling showed. — The Washington Post

McCain’s biggest challenge (it ain’t winning Super Tuesday): But before McCain can join the testosterone caucus in Bavaria, he must deal with his own party’s chest-thumpers. On Monday, Rush Limbaugh devoted an entire show to bashing McCain in an attempt to rally conservatives around Mitt Romney. McCain campaigned Monday in New Jersey and New York, ending the day with a press conference in Grand Central Station. Joining him under the enormous chandeliers was an odd coalition of current and retired New York Republican officials, including former Gov. George Pataki and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Both men have publicly and loudly feuded for years… The message of the day was that if McCain could bring the old enemies together, he could unite the Republican Party. But the Republicans McCain is uniting in New York—fiscally conservative but socially moderate—aren’t exactly the ones that dislike him so much. — John Dickerson, Slate

The secret to McCain’s success: The Arizona senator’s victories on Tuesday night, which cemented his status as his party’s front-runner, were part of one of the most remarkable resurrection stories in recent American politics. How it happened has as much to do with events beyond Mr. McCain’s control — the success of the troop buildup he supported in Iraq, Rudolph W. Giuliani’s decision not to contest New Hampshire — as it does with the stubbornness of Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war, to stick it out. — NY Times

Different systems, different outcomes: In seven state contests so far McCain has won no more than 37 percent of the vote, but with a strong assist from the Republican Party’s winner-take-all system of apportioning delegates, McCain stands poised to dominate the field today and put himself on a clear path to the nomination. t the same time, Hillary Clinton maintains a lead in polls in many large states, but thanks to the Democratic Party’s system of allotting delegates by a complex formula based on percentage of the vote, neither she nor rival Barack Obama is likely to emerge from today’s voting with a clear path to their party’s nomination, even if one of them wins substantially more states. The parties’ contrasting systems of choosing candidates reflect both past battles and different underlying objectives: Among Republicans, a desire to rally the party behind the biggest vote-getter, even if the victory margin is small; among Democrats, a desire to maximize the participation of all constituencies, even if it delays the selection of a nominee. And with more than 1,000 delegates at stake on both sides, the disparate methods of electing delegates will control the destinies of both parties. — Peter S Cannellos, Boston Globe

McCain hits jackpot: In a lineup of 21 state contests, McCain, an Arizona senator, captured the winner-take-all states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut–a treasure trove of nearly 200 national convention delegates. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, won his home state as well as Utah.  — Chicago Tribune

THE SOUTH HEARTS HUCKABEE:

Huck’bee for VP. Hey, it rhymes: …the day belongs to John McCain. But Mike Huckabee has now won West Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama—a clean sweep of the Southern states. We knew he was strong in these primaries, but damn. That’s a total of at least 94 winner-take-all delegates plus a piece of the states’ proportionally allocated delegates. Overall, he should take away more than 120 delegates. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t added a notch to his belt since Iowa. If this shows anything, it’s that McCain needs Huckabee. Not just in the immediate sense, although indeed it’s hard to see him winning these states in a face-off against Romney. But in the general election, too: McCain would have a hard time finding a VP with more Southern appeal than Huck. And after tonight, McCain owes him. — Trailhead, Slate

The Bee stings Romney: At the very least, Huckabee finishes the night with some bragging rights, and maybe even a few miracles. For Romney, who has made no secret of the fact that he needs to get the former Arkansas governor out of the Republican race if he hopes to unite conservatives against McCain, that’s very bad news. — John Nichols, The Nation

Huck kills Romney’s chances: As politics is a zero sum game, the better Mike Huckabee does, the worse Mitt Romney does… and so it doesn’t matter all too much…that McCain seems to be underperforming, as he is. (It’s going to be mighty hard for McCain to unite the party…but that’s not the story tonight. The McCain / Huckabee collusion — explicit in West Virginia and implicit /unofficial/unintended everywhere else — is a major story tonight. — The Atlantic

McCain’s role in Huckabee’s success: What kind of skullduggery should we expect if one or both of the presidential nominating struggles go unresolved all the way to the national conventions? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but the supporters of John McCain may have offered a glimpse of the future on Tuesday at West Virginia’s Republican Convention where 18 national delegates were at stake in a winner-take-all contest. On the first ballot, the McCain forces found themselves running third behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was in first place but lacked the necessary majority. Determined to block chief rival Romney from bragging rights on the first Super Tuesday contest to report its results, McCain’s delegates threw most of their votes to Huckabee, whose underfunded campaign appears headed nowhere. — Finlay Lewis, Sign on Sandiego

Conservatives say don’t vote Huck; no-one listens: This week, conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter all rallied against John McCain, telling their listeners to back Mitt Romney. Forget Huckabee, they’ve argued, a vote for him only ensures that the apostate McCain will win …These loud voices of protest were thoroughly ignored. Conservatives did not rally to Mitt Romney. They rallied to Mike Huckabee, who won Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama. “A lot of people have tried to say that this is a two-man race,” he said after winning, “You know what? It is, and we’re in it.” — John Dickerson, Slate

Conservatives, Scattering: John McCain is scoring big in the northeast, and Mike Huckabee in the deep south, and it’s not surprising that the conservative blogosphere is gloomy. — Tobin Harshaw, Opinionator, NY Times

MITT’S GOT NO MATES:

Romney stumbles early on West Virginia: The fate of former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bid – and political future – hinged on the yet-to-be-tallied California jackpot after a disappointing loss in West Virginia threw off his Super Tuesday trajectory. “It’s grim if he doesn’t win California,” said Washington D.C.-based GOP strategist John Feehery, noting that the latest polls indicate a Romney comeback in the Golden State. Romney is expected to take a day off from the trail today and take stock of his campaign’s future. – Jessica Van Sack, Boston Herald

Huckabee: Romney’s a “whiner”: After casting his ballot in Little Rock, Ark., today, Gov. Mike Huckabee held a media availability to react to his win in West Virginia. After some pleasantries about the thrill of seeing his name on the ballot after 14 months of hard work, the questions turned to his opponents. When asked for his reaction to the Romney camp’s charge of a McCain-Huckabee back room deal in the Mountain State’s Republican convention, Huckabee called Romney a “whiner.” “I thought he was saying yesterday no whining. So is it no whining or whining? He can’t even keep a straight answer on the whining or no whining question,” he said. – MSNBC

Live blogging Super Tuesday: From our colleague, Michael Luo, who’s finally in Boston at the end of Mr. Romney’s exhausting flyaround the last few days: The spin from Romney advisers here outside the ballroom is that it is a bad night for Mr. McCain because he didn’t win, meaning wrap up the nomination, when they said he had been on the verge of his victory lap. But by that measure, it has hardly been a good night for Mr. Romney. It should be noted that most of the states that have gone to Mr. Huckabee and Mr. McCain so far were victories Mr. Romney’s advisers believed they would get. – New York Times

RON WHO?

Ron’s shake and bake: According to a Paul campaign press release, Paul’s delegate count increased by three due to a little backroom shake-and-bake. After Paul was eliminated from consideration during the first round of balloting at today’s West Virginia convention, Huckabee’s team struck a deal with Paul supporters…vote for our guy, and we’ll throw you three delegates. It’s a smart way to try to stay in the race. — Nolanchart.com

Ron Paul gets North Dakota: Ron Paul captured 21 percent and Mike Huckabee 19 percent. Twenty-six delegates were at stake. Paul, whose maverick Internet outreach built a small but determined cadre of supporters nationwide, made a rare personal appearance in Fargo Tuesday. The Tribune said Paul told about 300 fans at the city’s Elks lodge that winning North Dakota would “send a strong message” to the nation despite the state’s small population. — United Press International

Peter Fray

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