Huckabee vote to sap Romney campaign bid

James Heggen and Ross Boettcher

He’s not favored to finish in the top two, but Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., will likely play a vital role in the Republican outcome of Super Tuesday.

Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, said Huckabee’s presence will likely hurt the support of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. She said social conservatives who support Huckabee would typically support Romney over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leaving Romney and Huckabee in a tussle for those particular votes.

“I think Huckabee can maybe pick up some southern states,” Bystrom said. “Personally, I don’t think he’s positioned to win enough delegates on Super Tuesday.”

Bystrom said Romney needs to get the Huckabee supporters on his side in order to compete with McCain.

“He’s got to convince those social conservatives that a vote for him keeps a true conservative in the race,” she said.

Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science, agreed that McCain is looking like the Republican front-runner after mounting “great momentum” leading up to Super Tuesday.

James McCormick, professor and chairman of political science, said the seven “winner-take-all” states will play a key role in the outcome on Tuesday. Out of those seven states, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Utah and West Virginia, on the Republican side, McCain is projected to win five.

“My sense is that results are going to be more definitive on the Republican side than on the Democratic side,” McCormick said. “A great number of the states are winner-take-all, in terms of the delegates.”

The two winner-take-all states that McCain isn’t favored in are Utah and Missouri. Bystrom said Romney will pick up Utah, but Missouri is essentially a toss up.

Unlike the Democratic race, Bystrom said she thought the Republican race could be decided Tuesday.

“If it is decided, it will be John McCain,” she said.

Bystrom said she still gave Romney a chance, but he would have to win a larger state. If Huckabee’s supporters stay with Huckabee, McCain will likely take it, she said.

“I think what changed the face was the social conservatives searching for a home,” she said.

Those voters were counting on Fred Thompson, but he didn’t campaign well, she said. Then, Huckabee did campaign well and picked up many who would have voted for Thompson.

Bystrom related the current state of the Republican race back to Iowa, where Huckabee’s good performance actually hurt Romney and helped McCain.

After McCain started campaigning like “the old John McCain,” Bystrom said, he was able to start doing better. McCain was also helped by Giuliani not campaigning in the early states, she said.

Because of the conservatives trying to find a candidate and Giuliani’s strategy of campaigning in the later states, McCain came out with the advantage, Bystrom said.

“He sort of emerged like a phoenix from the ashes,” she said.

Although Ron Paul has said he won’t run on a third-party ticket, Bystrom said he may if he doesn’t get the nomination.