In Republican Race, Calculations Turn Complicated


By: Wall Street Journal

Alliances Possible As Three Candidates Jockey for Position
By LAURA MECKLER and ELIZABETH HOLMES

Mike Huckabee had a good night and Mitt Romney had a tough night, and both men faced a similar question the morning after: How to keep their campaigns going and halt the momentum of Sen. John McCain.

Messrs. Romney and Huckabee met yesterday with their top advisers to plot the next steps. Neither one appeared ready to exit the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. McCain holds a dominating lead in the delegate count, with 703 to Mr. Romney’s 269 and Mr. Huckabee’s 190, according to the Associated Press tally.

Mr. Huckabee prepared to run TV ads in Kansas, which holds caucuses on Saturday, and Virginia, which votes on Tuesday. Mr. Romney looked at possible visits to campaign in Kansas and Washington state, which also holds caucuses on Saturday.

But first: the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Mr. McCain will try to persuade conservatives that he is one of them and Mr. Romney will suggest that he isn’t. Both men speak at the Washington, D.C., convention today. Mr. Huckabee is scheduled to speak on Saturday.

Messrs. Huckabee and Romney, who seem to hold one another in great disdain, suddenly have a common cause of sorts. Mr. Huckabee has called Mr. Romney a flip-flopper and a phony; Mr. Romney has said Mr. Huckabee is a tax-and-spend liberal. Yet both want the nomination battle to continue in hopes that some change in fortunes will swing it their way.

Republican rules on awarding delegates offer some hope to Messrs. Huckabee and Romney. Many contests are winner-take-all, giving someone who is behind a chance to catch up in the delegate race with a few big wins. The first big opportunity comes on Tuesday, when Maryland and the District of Columbia join Virginia to complete the Beltway trio of voting. These winner-take-all contests have a total of 119 delegates at stake. One week later, Wisconsin’s 40 delegates will go to the winner of its primary.

Bigger prizes await on March 4, including in Ohio, where the winner will get all 88 delegates, and Texas, which doles out candidates in proportion to the vote.

“We’re going to continue on until someone has 1,191,” the number needed to win the nomination, said Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman.

Mr. Romney won more delegates and more states on Super Tuesday than Mr. Huckabee did, but because expectations were higher, Mr. Romney’s performance was widely seen as disappointing. Before results from California, Colorado or Minnesota had been announced Tuesday night, Mr. Romney spoke to a crowd of a couple hundred gathered at the Boston Convention Center. With vigor he declared, “We’re going to go all the way to the convention.” But after his wife, Ann, spoke, Mr. Romney jumped down from the stage to hurriedly begin his routine of hand-shaking. The classic rock song by Journey “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” blared from the speakers as Romney supporters mingled around the subdued room.

The candidate met yesterday with staffers at his Boston headquarters to offer a pep talk and to vow to take the fight forward. After his speech in Washington today, he heads to Baltimore. Mr. Romney may then be traveling to Kansas and Washington ahead of Saturday’s caucuses.

Yesterday, Mr. Romney re-evaluated his staffing levels. Over the weekend, he had forecast the move, saying the campaign’s large staff may no longer be needed. It wasn’t clear whether or how many staffers would be dropped from the payroll.

The Romney camp said it wasn’t surprised by Mr. McCain’s performance Tuesday, but it was caught off guard by Mr. Huckabee’s strong showing. Since losing Florida Jan. 29, the campaign tried to cast the race as a two-person contest. Voters didn’t agree.

Mr. Huckabee’s camp was overjoyed at his showing Tuesday, winning five states, including a competitive race in Georgia. Mr. Huckabee was traveling to New York City today for, among other things, meetings regarding fund raising. Mr. Saltsman said the campaign isn’t cash-starved, but it has long been a low-budget affair and could use an infusion.

Some interested in stopping Mr. McCain see their best chance if both Messrs. Romney and Huckabee stay in the race and, between them, continue to take delegates away from the front-runner.

Richard Viguerie, chairman of American Target Advertising, a Republican direct-mail firm, has issued a call for an open convention where the party could unite around someone else. The only way that will happen, he says, is if the race is muddled and no one wins enough delegates. “Huckabee and Romney have to stay in the race,” he said.

Mr. Viguerie rejects both men as insufficiently conservative, but he is more concerned about Mr. McCain, angered by his stances on global warming, taxes, campaign-finance reform, stem-cell research and immigration. “The Republican Party is shattered out there, in tatters. I don’t see how McCain can put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” he said.

But Messrs. Huckabee and Romney might stay in the fight out of their own sense of possibility. “If they stay in the race and it’s deadlocked, hope springs eternal that the convention could turn to them,” he said. “Once you’re out of the race, you’re out. But if you stay in, you have a chance to put something together.”

Indeed, a Huckabee adviser offered just such as scenario after the former Arkansas governor won the West Virginia Republican convention Tuesday. Mr. Romney was leading on the first ballot. Then Mr. McCain’s supporters swung their votes to Mr. Huckabee, who won. The same sort of unpredictable scenario could happen at a national convention, the adviser argued.

The West Virginia move infuriated the Romney campaign. Mr. Romney’s campaign manager charged that Mr. McCain had cut “a Washington backroom deal.” Both the McCain and the Huckabee camps denied it. But the Romney forces worry that given the number of caucus states that lie ahead, the strategy could be repeated.

Others spin it differently, with Messrs. Huckabee and Romney splitting the conservative vote and allowing Mr. McCain to sail through with support from moderates and liberals, who make up a minority of the Republican party.

There was a tight three-way race in Missouri, for example. Exit polls found three in 10 voters describing themselves as “very conservative.” Those voters largely split between Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee. But Mr. McCain won the overwhelming majority of moderates, which was enough to give him a narrow win. The result: He took all 58 delegates in the winner-take-all state.

“If either Romney or Huckabee had not been in, odds are the other would have those delegates, but instead they are in McCain’s hands,” said David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, and a McCain detractor.

Exit polls conducted across 15 states found more evidence of this. Twenty-eight percent of Republican voters said they were “very conservative.” Of them, 45% voted for Mr. Romney and 30% for Mr. Huckabee. Mr. McCain took just 19% of these votes.

Still, Mr. Keene, who has endorsed Mr. Romney, acknowledges that Mr. McCain is an even more dominant front-runner after Tuesday’s balloting. He holds out hope — but not much hope — that this will change.

“If either Romney or Huckabee wins more than their share [in coming states], McCain could end up in trouble,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to mortgage your house and bet on that happening.”

Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com and Elizabeth Holmes at elizabeth.holmes@wsj.com

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