Sen. John McCain cemented his position as the Republican front-runner with his win in the California primary -- the most delegate-heavy state up for grabs on Super Tuesday.
His was victorious in nine states, despite a low percentage of conservative Republicans voting for him: While more than six in 10 GOP primary voters said they were conservatives, only 31 percent of them voted for McCain, according to ABC News' poll analysis.
But McCain did better-than-expected among independents and moderates, and even scored some crossover Democrats.
While many of the biggest states on Super Tuesday went to McCain's camp, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also picked up key wins in the South -- including Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, as well as his home state.
McCain, speaking to a cheering crowd Tuesday at his Phoenix, Ariz., headquarters, said that he "doesn't mind" being the Republican Party front-runner. The road ahead is still a long one, he added.
The results were more disappointing for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won his home state, Colorado, Minnesota and the small prizes of Montana, Utah and the North Dakota and Alaska caucuses. But in a speech delivered from his campaign headquarters in Boston, Romney spoke passionately to a crowd of cheering supporters.
"One thing that is clear is that this campaign is going on!" said Romney.
Conservative voters favored Romney -- the former governor won 38 percent of their support compared to McCain's 31 percent and Huckabee's 23 percent.
Earlier in the evening, Huckabee told a crowd at his own campaign's headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., "Over the past few days a lot of people have been trying to say this is a two-man race, but you know what? It is, and we're in it!"
Exit polls showed that Huckabee's success in Arkansas and Alabama was a result of a remarkable turnout by evangelicals, who made up 75 percent of the Republican primary voters in Arkansas. Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, won the evangelicals by 17 points, beating McCain by more than 4-1. In Alabama, 77 percent of the voters were evangelicals, 47 percent of which went to Huckabee and only 35 percent voting for McCain.
McCain won New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, Oklahoma and his home state of Arizona. The senator also took Missouri's Republican primary in what was a close three-way race throughout the evening.
With these results, McCain took six winner-take-all states, garnering 180 delegates in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York alone.
McCain is currently far ahead in the race for delegates with a total of 561. Romney has 222 and Huckabee has 172.
Earlier Tuesday, it was Huckabee -- a candidate widely considered to be in the race as a spoiler, and not a contender -- who won the first contest of the day.
Huckabee garnered 52 percent of the vote to win the West Virginia caucus. Huckabee will receive at least 18 of the state's 27 delegates as a result of his win.
West Virginia's convention setup is unlike many state systems, in that two rounds of voting determine the winner. The first round went to Romney, spurring the supporters of McCain — realizing the Arizona senator wasn't going to win — to switch their votes to Huckabee instead.
All three campaigns exchanged words on whether McCain and Huckabee had brokered a "backroom deal" to ensure Romney's defeat. While McCain and Huckabee both denied the allegations, Romney's camp remained convinced a deal had been made.
McCain Led Polls in Days Leading Up to Super Tuesday
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed McCain favored by 37 percent of conservative voters going into Super Tuesday, a number that has grown significantly since December, when the senator was favored by only 15 percent. Opposition to McCain among conservatives is said to be his major weakness in the Republican primary race.
Romney was running second in many national polls, Huckabee third and Texas Rep. Ron Paul fourth.
But with a total of 21 states voting in a combination of Republican primaries, caucuses and conventions, 1,038 delegates are at stake, just under the 1,191 needed for the nomination. Some 270 delegates are up for grabs in the state of California alone.
In 10 states, Republican parties have ruled that all the delegates go to the winner — a system known as winner-take-all states. But all of the Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally, based on the results of the primary or caucus.
As for what's on the minds of Republican voters, preliminary results of our national exit poll indicate the economy is the top issue, followed by immigration, the war in Iraq and then terrorism. This is a switch from six months ago, when Iraq was the biggest worry for GOP voters. Additionally, "shares my values" is substantially more important than "experience" as a quality voters want in a candidate.
The front-runners spent the days leading up to Super Tuesday crisscrossing the country in a last-ditch effort to wrangle as many voters as possible — particularly in the Golden State, where pre-primary polls have not indicated any candidate out in front.
McCain and Romney have focused much of their campaign time in the last few days on California, where so many delegates are at stake.
Both candidates scheduled last-minute stops in the Golden State. Monday night Romney flew overnight in order to squeeze in a visit to Long Beach and McCain — who was recently endorsed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — held an airport rally in San Diego Tuesday.
In Missouri, the bellwether winner-take-all state, Romney won endorsements from Gov. Matt Blunt and former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri., who has been campaigning on Romney's behalf. But that was only enough to get him a third-place finish.
In the South, Tennessee was one of the few states where Huckabee was expected to be a potential contender — especially after former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson's recent departure from the race. He took that state, getting 34 percent of the vote to McCain's 32 percent.
And amid the traveling and campaigning, there were harsh words exchanged between and about the candidates just hours before Super Tuesday.
Monday, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh lashed out against McCain, urging his listeners not to vote for the Republican and warning that if they did, the senator would destroy the Republican Party.
McCain continued to defend himself against charges that he's too liberal, while at the same time his opponent, Romney, spread the word across the country that Republicans wanted a conservative, not McCain.
Romney also took swipes at Huckabee, suggesting the former governor's time to drop out of the race had finally come.
Huckabee's response was heated — and not one of a candidate ready or willing to drop out quite yet — and turned on the claim that despite having outspent him, Romney had not excelled in the polls.