Hucka-Back from the Dead

Former Ark. governor wins West Virginia, first of 21 GOP Super Tuesday contests.


LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Feb. 5, 2008— -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's cell phone was ringing. On the other end was his campaign manager, Chip Saltsman.

"Are you sittin' down?" Saltsman asked in his Tennessee drawl. "I've got some news for you from West Virginia."

"What is it?" Huckabee asked.

"Our guys on the ground in West Virginia have been working really hard," Saltsman said, "and the news is you only won by a couple votes."

It took a second for Huckabee to process what Saltsman was saying.

"Wait — did you say I won by a couple votes?" Huckabee asked. "That is great news!"

Super Tuesday began with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., holding 93 delegates, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holding 77.

With his West Virginia win adding 18 delegates to his total, Huckabee now has 58 delegates. The winner of the GOP nomination will be the first to amass 1,191.

The West Virginia news provides some well-needed wind at the back for Huckabee, who hasn't won a contest since the Iowa caucuses.

He, Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who has four delegates, all campaigned in West Virginia Tuesday.

No winner emerged after the first round of voting at the West Virginia GOP convention, though Paul — who came in fourth — was eliminated.

Romney led with 464 votes, or 41 percent, followed by Huckabee with 375 (33 percent), McCain with 176 (16 percent) and Paul with 118 (10 percent).

As voting continued to a second round and it was clear McCain wouldn't win, many McCain supporters jumped to back Huckabee.

With the support of those supporters who had gone in the first round for Paul and McCain, Huckabee squeaked past Romney for a win in the second round of voting. Huckabee garnered 52 percent of the vote to Romney's 47 percent.

"Unfortunately, this is what Sen. McCain's inside Washington ways look like," griped Romney for President campaign manager Beth Myers. "He cut a backroom deal with the tax-and-spend candidate he thought could best stop Gov. Romney's campaign of conservative change."

The Huckabee campaign denied there was any deal.

"I'm sorry, I thought the Romney campaign sent out something [on Monday] saying there's no whining in politics," said Saltsman. "He got beat — period. Once again showing that Gov. Romney's millions of dollars can't buy the election."

Saltsman added that the loss impedes Romney's message that if Huckabee dropped out of the race he could unite the conservative wing of the party, defeat McCain and win the nomination.

"If Romney got out of the way we could unite the conservative part of the party," Saltsman said.

"Delegates act in their own interest. It's unfortunate the Romney campaign is dealing with the loss by lashing out at the McCain campaign," said McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker.

Bob Fish, the CEO of the West Virginia Republican Presidential Convention, responded to Romney charges of a deal by telling ABC News: "Welcome to politics."

"To anyone who speaks of 'a deal,' being made, as if that's critical, I guess I would say: 'Welcome to politics.' This is exactly what happens when you have an election of this type," Fish said.

One Romney adviser said glumly, "It's always a possibility when you don't win on the first ballot of these."

Huckabee is looking south for wins tonight, to his home state of Arkansas.

He also hopes to pick up significant chunks of delegates in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma, and perhaps some others in states that aren't holding winner-take-all contests such as Minnesota and Montana.

ABC News' John Berman, Ron Claiborne, Matt Stuart, Teddy Davis, Rick Klein and Karen Travers contributed to this report.