South Carolina Results Thread: McCain wins tight battle, marginalizing Huckabee!

9:50pm: With 97% of the vote reporting, McCain is ahead 33% to 30% with Thompson at 16% and Romney at 15%. Paul is still in front of Giuliani, 4% to 2%. And in a sign of just how well McCain did in the state's most conservative areas, consider that McCain trails Huckabee in Greenville County by only 3% (29-26) with all precincts in. Thompson got 21%. This is the kind of place Huckabee had to do much better in.
And with that, here are the main narratives of today on the GOP side -- with a more complete analysis to come by tomorrow morning: (1) McCain is once again the front-runner. (2) Thompson has nowhere else to go. (3) Huckabee lost a lot tonight, in particular his claim to hold the evangelical vote, his hope to pursue a Southern strategy and his ability to compete strongly in Florida and on February 5th. (4) This is an awful result for Giuliani, who will have trouble getting anywhere in Florida with McCain strong. (5) Romney saved himself by triumphing in Nevada, and the race comes down to Romney-McCain, at least for the coming days.

9:20pm: South Carolina is called for John McCain! Huckabee is trailing by 14,000 with 83% of precincts in, which is only a 3% difference. Considering that Horry County still has to report, that Huckabee is running weak in upstate and McCain is running strong in coastal states Huckabee has no more paths to victory though he could still hold this thing close. And let's be clear about two huge reasons that helped McCain here: (1) Thompson's third-place cost Huckabee his victory -- as is demonstrated by Thompson's strong showing upstate. (2) Romney conceding South Carolina helped McCain open up huge margins in coastal counties or areas where the evangelical vote is weaker. Thompson must be happy about helping McCain; but this is not good for Romney, so he could come to regret his decision.

Results are still coming in fast, and it's now 72% of precincts in. It's still too close to call, but Huckabee is making up no ground, still trailing 34% to 29% (1,300 votes). Myrtle Beach's Horry County (where McCain is strong) has not reported at all yet, which is reassuring for the McCain camp.

Thirteen percent more of precincts are now reporting (for a total of 44%), and Huckabee has recovered a bit, trailing by 7,000 votes, 33% to 30%! Thompson is still third, 15% to 14%. Reports from Huckabee camp indicate that they have not given up hope yet. One example to illustrate Huckabee's troubles: Greenville County, upstate, is supposed to be Huckabee country and the two candidates are instead tied there. And why is that? Thompson gets 21% in that county... Overall, McCain is running strong in counties where he was expected to be weak -- much stronger, in any case, than Huckabee is running in the coastal states. (Did Romney's pulling out of SC also help McCain? Romney could have gotten some more votes in those same coastal states.)

: Bad news for Huckabee supporters, who is not closing the margin with 30% of precincts in. McCain is up 35% to 28%. In upstate counties in which Huckabee had to do very well, he is not running as high as he is supposed to and Thompson is getting some high numbers, flirting with 20% -- most of that support has probably come from Huckabee. In the coastal counties that are key to McCain, he is getting some big margins: He is up by 24% in Charleston County with almost all precincts in. MSNBC seems to have decided that Thompson's only concern right now is to help McCain -- which is perhaps going too far.

8:20pm: Huckabee was getting closer and closer and was only within 3% and McCain suddenly got a surge of votes. With 22% in, McCain is up 36% to 28% again. And you can be sure to attribute some of that margin to Thompson's presence on the ballot, since a big reason Huckabee is relatively weak among evangelicals is that Thompson took some votes from him.

8:05pm: The results are actually coming in quickly now. With 12% of precincts reporting, McCain is narrowly ahead 34% to 30%, with Thompson third at 15% and Romney at 14%. Ron Paul gets 4% and Giuliani has... 2% yet again! Meanwhile, Thompson already spoke tonight, rather early which sparked speculation that he might be dropping out, but nothing of the sort.

7:50pm: If McCain pulls it off, he will have done so in an environment that is much less favorable to him than 2000, since 19% of voters are independent compared to 30% 8 years ago. McCain is doing much better than he did then -- and much better than he did in Michigan. And notice that Huckabee is running significantly weaker among evangelicals than he did in Iowa. Meanwhile, Duncan Hunter has just withdrawn from the race -- which means Giuliani better start climbing because sixth spot (which he has gotten in three out of four elections now) will now be the last spot.

7:15pm: CNN has released its first round of exit polls and it looks like McCain is leading by about 3% for now (which is clearly too close to call). Among the 79% of registered Republicans, McCain is up 30% to 29%. But among independents, McCain is up 37% to 23% -- which could be enough to pull him in a lead, despite the fact that 79% of voters are GOPers (much higher than 2000. Evangelicals broke for Huckabee 41% to 27%. But Huckabee looks to be only at 14% among non-evangelicals...

: The polls have closed in South Carolina, and the only definite indication from exit polls for now is that... McCain and Huckabee are competing for first, and Romney and Thompson are competing for third. Stunning, indeed. Other indications from early exit polls: 53% of voters are white evangelicals, which should help Huckabee. And registered Republicans make up 79% of the vote, a much higher percentage than back in 2000.

Original Post: The South Carolina primary marks the first controversy about the voting itself, as there have been numerous reports of machines malfunctioning in Horry County, in the Eastern part of the state. This is one of McCain's strongholds, as he performed very well here back in 2000. Voters are reportedly being told to pushed away or told to vote with any piece of paper. The situation had not been entirely fixed by 4pm.

This has led McCain endorser state Rep. Tracey Edge to reveal that the campaign was trying to get a judge to extend the voting hours in that part of the state, though the only circuit court judge who is competent to do this appears to not yet have been contacted. A delay would also postpone results being announced, but it might not happen after all, as TPM quotes a McCain spokesperson as denying that the decision to pursue a delay has been made yet.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is surely breathing easy right now knowing that he will have good press come tomorrow no matter how he does in South Carolina. His crushing Nevada wins ensures that he will be part of the storyline -- and frankly perhaps overshadow the SC winner given that he managed to get more than 50% of the vote in Nevada.

While we wait for the polls to close, you can check the Nevada results or these guidelines of what to expect tonight.



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