The Note: Enter Sandman


"John McCain won the Republican primaries, but many conservatives continued to protest the party's presumptive nominee by voting for his remaining rival," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"The closeness of the outcome in Virginia was a worrisome sign for the party's November prospects. . . . The fact that Sen. McCain continues to do poorly with [conservative] voters, after he effectively wrapped up the nomination last week on Super Tuesday, is a sign of weakness that underscores how divided the party is over its likely standard-bearer."

"For John McCain, Mike Huckabee is a symbol of a problem -- the problem he has shoring up his conservative base," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "For Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama is not symbol, he's the frontrunner, and supporters of hers worry that unless she does something soon to change the dynamic he will become the nominee."

"Despite taking Virginia by ten points and running as the de facto nominee, the Arizona senator lost to Mike Huckabee in county after county in the rural southern and western part of the commonwealth," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

"Behind the scenes, though, McCain's campaign has stopped smiling and tonight offered the closest thing yet to a nudge."

Wrote campaign manager Rick Davis: "[Huckabee] now needs 950 delegates to secure the required 1,191. But in the remaining contests there are only 774 delegates available. He would need to win 123% of remaining delegates."

Huckabee really would have preferred a victory -- any victory (preferably in Virginia) -- out of Tuesday's voting, but he said he's staying in the race, per ABC's Kevin Chupka.

"While it may be mathematically impossible to see how it could play out right now, I know this:  Right now, nobody has the 1,191 delegates," Huckabee said Tuesday night, after the returns rolled in. "And, therefore, it would be a little premature to quit until the game has actually come to a conclusion."

The National Review's Byron York drops a hint that Huckabee may be getting the message: "Inside the Huckabee camp these days, there is a distinct sense of pragmatism about the campaign's prospects. The time is coming -- probably just after the March 4 primary in Texas -- when Huckabee, if he cannot produce any more victories, will leave the Republican presidential race."

McCain can try to scare Huckabee out, or sweet-talk him out, or just flat ignore him. "The Arizona senator is now focused less on Huckabee than on finding common ground with conservatives who have criticized him on subjects ranging from immigration to his temper," USA Today's David Jackson writes.

"McCain, whose outreach efforts began last week with a speech to a conference of conservative activists, is scheduled to meet today with House Republicans. The senator also is to conduct a conference call with bloggers from around the country."

Another Bushie enters the fold: Mercer Reynolds, who broke fundraising records for President Bush in 2004, will serve as McCain's national finance co-chairman. "The development was a major sign that the Republican financial establishment was coalescing around Mr. McCain, who has often been at odds with his own party, particularly conservatives," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times.

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