McCain wins big; Obama, Clinton continue to dance

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) emerged as the big winner in the hunt for the GOP nomination on Super Tuesday while Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) split states and delegates throughout the night.

McCain’s strong showing was undercut only by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s refusal to concede as he followed a win in West Virginia early Tuesday with a slew of victories across the South.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney experienced a disappointing evening as McCain triumphed in California and New York and emerged with a big lead in the Republican delegate count.

On the Democratic side, the Clinton and Obama campaigns appeared to come out close to even in the delegate count, according to some network projections, with the Obama campaign claiming a mathematical victory early Wednesday morning.

But Clinton can also claim momentum and strength after carrying both coasts with wins in California and her home state of New York, and even pulled out what the campaign called “the surprise win of the night.” Clinton won Massachusetts despite endorsements for Obama from Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy.

On top of New York, Clinton was also able to maintain her lead over Obama in New Jersey. The Illinois senator, however, did pick off Delaware and Connecticut to prevent a Northeastern sweep for Clinton.

Missouri proved to the be the snag in the night, as several news organizations called the state for Clinton early in the night before results showed the race tightening and eventually moving over to Obama’s column.

As the race moved from East to West, Obama showed an expected but convincing strength in caucus states, winning by what appeared to be comfortable margins in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota.

The two camps split the Southern states that went to the polls Tuesday with Obama winning Georgia and Alabama and Clinton picking up victories in Tennessee and Arkansas, where she served as first lady.

Exit polls indicated that Clinton did well with Hispanic voters, as was largely expected. Those polls were backed up by Clinton wins in Arizona and California. Results in New Mexico were still out.

For the GOP, Huckabee was the surprise of the night as he did considerably well in the Southern states and challenged McCain in Missouri late into the night.

His success combined with McCain’s continued show of strength and momentum put the spotlight on Romney following Super Tuesday.

The former governor contended since a loss in Florida last Saturday that he was in a two-man race with McCain. Disappointing losses in several states where he expected to do well will likely lead to a media drop-out watch for Romney.

Romney did win his home state of Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Utah.

On the night for the Republicans, with Alaska yet to report, McCain had won nine states to Romney’s six and Huckabee’s five.

With New Mexico still out on the Democratic side, Obama won 13 states to Clinton’s eight.

While McCain told supporters Tuesday night they might have to get used to the label “frontrunner,” the Democratic race is more muddled than ever.

The delegate count was still being sorted out Wednesday morning, but the campaigns have already spoken at length about their efforts for the following rounds.

The Potomac Primary follows on Feb. 12, when Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. will vote.

The Clinton campaign has repeatedly said the rounds immediately after Super Tuesday benefit Obama. Clinton campaign officials have said they are focusing heavily on March 4, when delegate-rich states of Ohio and Texas will vote.

Democrats need 2,025 delegates to win the nomination, while Republicans require 1,191.