By JENNIFER PARKER
Sen. John McCain narrowly beat out former Gov. Mike Huckabee in the Republican South Carolina primary Saturday night, reversing his 2000 defeat to George W. Bush in the state, and solidifying himself as a candidate to be reckoned with leading up to the multi-state Super Tuesday votes.
The Arizona senator has battled back from the brink of political disaster this summer when his campaign was thought to be almost over after lackluster fundraising results and staffing shakeups.
Support from the state’s military veterans, who account for 25 percent of the electorate in the Republican contest, and support from independents and moderates helped McCain win victory. A big turnout by conservatives and evangelicals kept Huckabee competitive in the state.
With over three-quarters of the precincts reporting, McCain has garnered 33 percent support, Huckabee 30 percent, with Thompson at 16 percent and Romney at 15 percent.
Huckabee said he called McCain to congratulate him.
“I want to thank him for running a good and decent and civil campaign,” Huckabee said Saturday night in his concession speech to cheering supporters.
I am grateful for the campaign that he has run,” he said.
Historically the Palmetto State’s GOP primary has been a kingmaker – no Republican presidential candidate has captured the White House without first winning the South Carolina primary since former President Reagan won the state’s primary in 1980.
But with multiple candidates winning multiple early contests, and the GOP field still in flux, this may be the year the state’s kingmaker status falls on its sword.