Behind McCain's Win
By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Arizona Sen. John McCain won the South Carolina GOP primary, losing only the party's most conservative voters and doing significantly better among evangelicals than he did in Iowa.
McCain's victory gives his campaign a boost headed into the Florida primary on Jan. 29, and is a sweet turn for the senator whose presidential bid eight years ago fizzled in the Palmetto state.
In 2000, McCain's bid faltered when he lost Republicans by more than 2 to 1 to George W. Bush. This year, he ran evenly with runner-up former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee among party regulars, and won by a large margin among independents, as he did in New Hampshire. Eight in 10 South Carolina voters were Republicans, making his improvement in this core group particularly important.
Six in 10 GOP primary voters were evangelical Christians (same as in Iowa), but while only 10 percent of evangelicals in Iowa supported McCain, 27 percent voted for him in South Carolina. (He also got 28 percent among evangelicals in New Hampshire, where former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was his main rival.)
McCain also won by better than 2 to 1 among moderates and liberals, and split "somewhat conservative" voters (32 percent for McCain, 30 percent for Huckabee). About a third of voters described themselves as "very conservative," and they broke for Huckabee by better than 2 to 1, not quite enough to overcome McCain's advantage in the less conservative groups.
One factor working in McCain's favor was that 43 percent of voters said he is the most electable Republican candidate. Far fewer, 23 percent, said Huckabee has the best shot at beating the Democratic nominee; 19 percent said so about Romney.
Posted at 9:03 AM ET on Jan 20, 2008
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