McCain Gains; Romney Sags; Clinton Edges Ahead

Sen. Barack Obama shows confirmation that he voted in Chicago during the Illinois primary on Super Tuesday. hide caption

Gallery: The Campaign Trail
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Tuesday's big Republican winner was John McCain, Mitt Romney's relatively weak performance leaves him hobbled going forward. Mike Huckabee made a strong enough showing to keep running. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama may find himself playing catch-up in his race with Hillary Clinton.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We know who voters supported on Super Tuesday. Now here's our chance to ask why. NPR's Juan Williams has been analyzing the results for us throughout this morning. And Juan, let's focus on the Republican side and a couple of important states. First, California. We know the results, John McCain won. It was a state that Mitt Romney really wanted to win. Now, what did some voters tell pollsters on their way out of the voting places?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Pretty interesting, Steve. If you look at the numbers here, over the last three days John McCain really came on strong. I suppose that was helped along by endorsements coming from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as the likes of Jack Kemp and Rudy Giuliani. But if you ask voters, for example, about the Bush administration - and about 58 percent of the California Republicans said they had a positive feeling about the Bush administration - McCain won that about 39 to 33. So it's pretty close, but still a win. But they had a negative perception of President Bush's administration - and 42 percent of California Republicans said they did - then it was overwhelming for John McCain, 42 to 27. The only category of Republicans who really favored Mitt Romney described themselves as very conservative. Even if it was just somewhat conservative, it went overwhelmingly for John McCain.

One last point here, Steve. If you ask Republicans in California which of the candidates shared their values, they said by 35 to 27, Romney over McCain. But when it came to the best chance to win in November, 68 percent said John McCain would be that candidate for the Republicans.

INSKEEP: We should point out for those who haven't been following this closely that many conservatives have said their suspicious of John McCain, Rush Limbaugh and other talk show hosts have been campaigning against him, but you're saying that even if voters agree with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, they felt that McCain was their best chance to win?

WILLIAMS: The best chance to win. This is really become a determinative fact, a strong argument for John McCain. We saw this in Florida, we saw it in South Carolina, and now we're seeing it very large in California, a state that's, you know, it's different west coast and all. I mean, for example, on an issue like illegal immigration, it's a big issue in California. People who said they want to deport all illegal aliens said, oh yeah, Mitt Romney's our guy, like 40 to 29.

But when it comes to offering citizenship or temporary work status, there you see a 20-point margin for John McCain. So it's on these issues, Steve, where you see McCain, you know, sometimes is out of step with the Republican base. But when it comes to the winning in November, they're saying overwhelmingly, 68 percent. That's, there's no margin of error there, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's check in briefly with another state, Tennessee. And there we know the result, Mike Huckabee defeated both McCain and Mitt Romney, and what did voters say there?

WILLIAMS: Well, this was a pretty close race because Huckabee gets 34 to McCain's 31, Romney trails with 24. Over the last day, Huckabee was coming on strong. But in the last three days it was really a Romney and McCain surge, and they split that vote. Republicans, people who are self-identified as Republicans were 37 percent for Huckabee, 31 percent for McCain. Only 25 percent for Romney, very disappointing for him. And among people who were very conservative in self-identification, 40 percent for Huckabee.

Now, we come back to something we saw in California, Steve. If you ask people about shared values with the candidates, Huckabee won 49 percent of those votes. But when you ask them, who is the Republican who can win in November? Fifty-eight percent, Steve, said John McCain. Among born-again, white Evangelicals, 42 percent for Huckabee, but 29 percent for McCain. Mitt Romney, only 19 percent. So you can see even on an issue like the economy, Huckabee and a McCain split, but Romney, who would hope that issue would carry him to victory, only 17 percent.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much, Juan. That's NPR's Juan Williams giving us a feel for what Republican voters were saying in a couple of key states yesterday.

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