Mike Huckabee won the Kansas Republican caucuses Saturday, demonstrating the lingering rift in the party after rival John McCain was minted the clear front-runner Super Tuesday.
Kansas was the first of four states to hold contests for both parties Saturday. Final results showed Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, with 60 percent, compared to 24 percent for McCain, the Arizona senator. Texas Congressman Ron Paul had 11 percent.
Huckabee captured all 36 of the delegates to the Republican National Convention from Kansas, according to The Associated Press. Another three delegates are party leaders who attend the convention no matter whom they support, and two of them have endorsed McCain.
Both McCain and Huckabee were wooing conservatives in the state Friday. Huckabee had the support of prominent anti-abortion activists, while McCain had the backing from conservative Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. But McCain still is trying to reach out to conservatives, many of whom are skeptical of him for taking moderate positions on campaign finance, taxes and immigration. The Kansas caucuses could signal the difficulty of the road ahead for McCain in marshaling conservative enthusiasm for his campaign in the general election, if he is the nominee.
“This is a huge win for us,” Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman said. “This is a state that both candidates competed in. This shows that Washington pundits don’t pick the nominee. The folks in the states and outside the Beltway pick the nominee. So not so fast, we still have a long way to go until the nominee is picked, with 20-plus states left.”
Huckabee pledged Saturday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., that he would be staying in the race, even though Mitt Romney’s exit from the race earlier in the week made McCain the virtual heir to the GOP nomination.
“It sends a pretty significant signal to John McCain that he’s got a lot of work to do to get significant factions of the Republican Party solidly behind him,” said Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican Party chairman.
Huckabee will have a lot farther to go to catch McCain, though. The Arizona senator began the day with 719 delegates.
Huckabee had 198, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 14. It takes 1,191 to win the nomination.
McCain’s camp had already begun downplaying Kansas ahead of time. Caucuses are not their strength, and Brownback even said he didn’t expect a win in Kansas for McCain.
McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in a statement, “Our campaign fully expected to fall short in the Kansas caucus. John McCain is the presumptive nominee in this race, our path forward is unchanged by today’s results, and our focus remains the same: uniting the Republican party to defeat Democrats in 2008.”
Eighty delegates were at stake for the GOP in Saturday’s contests in Kansas, Louisiana, Washington and Guam. McCain’s campaign has said the earliest the Arizona senator could seal the nomination with the needed delegates is the March 4 primary.
Some Kansas Republicans thought their caucuses would provide an indication of whether conservatives grudgingly accepted McCain as the GOP candidate or whether they still hoped to nominate someone else despite the long odds.
FOX News’ Serafin Gomez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.