"Over the past few days, a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two man race," Mike Huckabee said last night. "Well you know what? It is, and we're in it!"
This was an exaggeration. Huckabee remains in third in the delegate race after the Super Tuesday results. But with victories in Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia, he's no longer in quite so distant a third.
It's worth lingering over just how remarkable this is. When Huckabee entered the race, he was dismissed by some -- okay, he was dismissed by me -- as little more than a vanity candidate, a notch or two above Duncan Hunter or Tom Tancredo in seriousness. At best.
Huckabee's fundraising has been consistently anemic, and he hasn't been able to afford the internal polling and build the extensive get-out-the-vote organizations that other campaigns have.
And yet he's managed to stay afloat even as better-funded and better-qualified candidates have sunk. He has found his niche as the standard-bearer of an important Republican faction -- white evangelical Christians -- and that's taken him almost as far as it could possibly be expected to.
And while I've never found Huckabee quite charming as some people do, in this election cycle he's benefited from the curve that his personality is being graded on.
John McCain's affability tends to melt away when he's challenged, as we saw when his mean streak flashed in the last debate. One would not be shocked to see Mitt Romney place an ice cube in his mouth and spit it out undiminished ten minutes later.
Under the circumstances, Huckabee is "the likable one" by default.
AFTER LAST NIGHT, Huckabee will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 delegates to bring to the Republican National Convention; he will trail Romney in the delegate tally by fewer than 100. John McCain will lead Romney by more that 300. (1,191 delegates for a lock.)
Therein lies a great irony. In South Carolina, where McCain beat Huckabee, Huckabee's staffers and allies insisted that they would have won if Fred Thompson had not been in the race, which might be true. Former South Carolina governor and Huckabee supporter David Beasley went so far as to call Thompson "John McCain's lapdog."
Well, who's the lapdog now? It's not that Romney would be beating McCain if Huckabee weren't in the race -- McCain has a majority of the delegates that have been apportioned so far, and there's some evidence that plenty of Huckabee supporters would prefer McCain over Romney. A non-trivial number of voters just won't vote for a Mormon, unfortunately.
But if it were a two-man race yesterday, Romney would at least have had the chance to keep it close. McCain's delegate lead is so commanding now that it will now be all-but-impossible for Romney (or Huckabee, for that matter) to catch up.
Forget two-man: At this point, it's pretty much a one-man race.
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