WASHINGTON - Mike Huckabee showed Saturday that some Republicans aren't ready to call the GOP presidential race over just yet.
The former Arkansas governor beat Sen. John McCain in two of three state contests, convincingly in Kansas' caucuses and by a narrow, 43-42 percent margin in Louisiana. In Washington state, McCain was ahead, 25 to 23 percent, with 87 percent of the vote counted, and the Associated Press predicted he would win when ballot tallies were complete.
In the Democratic race, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York convincingly in Democratic caucuses in Washington state and Nebraska and in primary voting in Louisiana. He also won in the Virgin Islands.
The next important battleground will be Tuesday when voters in Virginia, Maryland the District of Columbia get to weigh in. Sunday, Democrats caucus in Maine.
Huckabee had around 200 delegates heading into Saturday’s contests. McCain, with more than 700 delegates already on his way to the magic number of 1,191, remains the odds-on favorite.
But Huckabee’s strength in the Republican Midwest and the Deep South shows that the Arizonan hasn’t fully sealed the deal yet with a lot of GOP voters. Many apparently still want to see a race.
Earlier Saturday long before the returns, Huckabee made clear to an audience of conservatives that he had no intention of quitting the race. "Am I quitting? Let's get this settled right now. No, I am not," he said.
Obama's wins were overwhelming. In Washington state, Obama received 68 percent support, compared with 31 percent for Clinton. Obama will get about 52 of the state's delegates to the Democratic National Convention, while Clinton would get 26, state Democratic chairman Dwight Pelz told The Associated Press.
Obama enjoyed the same 2-1 margin in Nebraska. The Omaha World Herald predicted he would receive 16 of the state's 24 delegates. Thousands more voters than expected turned out, and school gyms were filled to overflowing with caucus attendees. Traffic jams were common near caucus sites.
In Louisiana, Obama won by 57 percent to 36 percent with all the votes counted. How many delegates Obama will receive won't be known till later this week; 37 of the state's 67 delegates are awarded based on the vote, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The remainder are chosen by state party leaders.
Speculation abounded earlier Saturday that Huckabee might use his platform at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington to fall in behind McCain.
Mitt Romney, McCain's closest competitor, gave up his effort on Thursday in a speech to the same group. Romney suspended his campaign, which allows him to hold onto his delegates. Huckabee made clear he wasn't going to follow precedent. It was better to be "right and not win than to be wrong and be part of the crowd," he said.
At the conference on Friday, President Bush offered an implicit endorsement of McCain and tried to shore up his conservative support. Without mentioning his former rival by name, Bush said the party's nominee would "carry a conservative banner."
Many conservatives have been long been skeptical of McCain's commitment because of his votes against tax cuts and banning same sex marriage, and his leadership on campaign finance reform.
Huckabee and Ron Paul are now his only remaining challengers and the convention math to overtake McCain is daunting.
Still, the ordained Southern Baptist minister told his audience, "Folks, I didn't major in math, I majored in miracles and I still believe in miracles."
His speech was a mix of folksy scripture, inspirational anecdotes about his hardscrabble upbringing and red meat Republican dogma. Securing America's borders, attacking international treaties and trashing the Internal Revenue Service all triggered loud bursts of applause.
Huckabee said he was not trying to be "a fly in the ointment" by remaining in the race. But with nearly two dozen Republican contests still on the calendar, he said voters in those states deserve an election, not "a coronation."
He told reporters afterward that no one from the party has urged him to close ranks behind McCain. Moreover, he said he was encouraged because in just 24 hours this past week, he raised more than $250,000 over the Internet, his campaign's best effort.
But a big test of Huckabee's ability to slow McCain's march will come Tuesday in Virginia, which has a significant share of social conservative voters. He swept several southern states on Super Tuesday.
He'll need a lot of voters like Jill Sizelove, a 32-year-old event planner from Virginia, who was carrying a Huckabee banner at his speech.
"He really spoke to my heart, his passion and his honesty," she said. "He unabashedly was standing for families and the right to life."