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McCain claims a Super Tuesday surge

He's amassed twice the delegates of rival Romney. But the GOP's conservative wing remains resistant to his campaign.

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain thanks supporters with his wife at a 'Super Tuesday' presidential primary elections night party in Phoenix.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Arizona Sen. John McCain's strong performance on Super Tuesday makes him the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination for president.

But the surprisingly strong showing by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won five Southern states, and the victories of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in seven states mean that Senator McCain will not have the race effectively sewn up as quickly as he might like.

If Messrs. Huckabee and Romney compete in the next round of primaries and beyond, as they have pledged to do, that forces McCain to spend precious resources from his underfunded campaign and continue the tense internecine battle within the Republican Party. He would much prefer to focus his energies on the Democrats – particularly as their tight nomination battle promises to continue at least through next month, if not longer.

Since McCain's victory in nine of 21 states Tuesday, some party leaders, such as former GOP chair Haley Barbour, have suggested that the time has come for the weaker candidates to drop out and allow the party to coalesce around a presumptive nominee. The problem is that no one can tell Huckabee or Romney what to do. And there is a strong constituency within the party – centered in the conservative wing – that is holding out hope that the sometimes-mercurial McCain can be stopped.

"Both of them [Huckabee and Romney] have supporters who have very, very strong feelings against John McCain," says Dan Schnur, an aide to McCain in his 2000 presidential race who has not worked for any of the 2008 candidates. "If conservatives decide to come together for one last stand against McCain, they can probably derail him. But with such a strong showing from Huckabee, deciding who to coalesce behind becomes a more difficult consideration."

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