McCain’s Virginia Scare

For a good half-hour there, John McCain’s campaign was having a coronary. Virginia was teetering between their candidate and Mike Huckabee. When it tipped, the state—and its 60 winner-take-all delegates—went to McCain. He ended up with 50 percent to Huckabee’s 41 percent. But it was close enough that McCain can’t exactly claim the party is rallying around him. Some showing for the party’s presumptive nominee.

Huckabee, on the other hand, isn’t just alive. He has all but sucked the life out of Mitt Romney’s desiccated campaign and used it to reanimate his own. Early exits showed evangelicals favoring Huck over McCain by a whopping 40 points. He beat McCain handily in the South and the Shenandoah Valley. Without Romney to split evangelicals and social conservatives, Huckabee appears to have lapped them all up.

This doesn’t change the fact that John McCain will be the party’s nominee. After picking up most of the 113 delegates at stake today, he will wake up tomorrow beating Huckabee by at least 500 delegates and closing in on the 1,191 needed for the nomination. (See up-to-date numbers here .) His relatively narrow victory reflects the deep uneasiness many Republican voters still feel toward him, even now that he’s been essentially declared the nominee.

Keep in mind that the state’s circumstances favored Huck. In an open primary like Virginia’s, Obama no doubt sucked independents away from McCain. Plus, many moderate Republicans probably think of the race as settled, and therefore didn’t turn out for McCain. Huckabee fans, on the other hand, know he can still use their help. Nevertheless, for all McCain’s appeals to conservative unity , he doesn’t seem to be getting through.

So what’s in it for Huckabee? Shouldn’t he realize that the longer he stays in the race, the more he undermines the mandate of the party’s inevitable nominee? Doesn’t he realize that McCain has him beaten on the board? Perhaps. But for Huckabee, it’s not about the numbers. “I didn’t major in math,” he has been saying . “I majored in miracles.” But unless he can miraculously turn back time and stop Fred Thompson from entering the race, or alter the GOP’s winner-take-all primary system, or call down a lightning bolt upon John McCain’s head, he’s going to be disappointed.

More likely, Huckabee will drop out once he feels he has made his point—but before he has ticked off McCain. So far, he has managed to maintain friendly relations with his opponent. But that will become harder and harder if Huckabee appears to be undermining McCain’s candidacy with his presence. Who knows, maybe McCain will offer him the vice presidency just to get him off his back.