CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Mike Huckabee won the first contest declared on Super Tuesday, picking up all 18 national delegates awarded at West Virginia's state GOP convention.
Huckabee bested Mitt Romney, who entered the Mountain State event with the largest bloc of pledged convention-goers. Both men and Ron Paul made in-person appeals to the more than 1,100 convention delegates attending Tuesday's convention.
But the former Arkansas governor beat his Massachusetts counterpart after delegates for John McCain defected to his side.
The first round of voting at the state convention produced no winner, but eliminated Paul after his fourth-place finish.
The results are the first from the 21 states with GOP primaries or caucuses Tuesday.
Arizona Sen. John McCain challenged his remaining rivals for control of the Republican presidential race Tuesday in primaries and caucuses from Connecticut to California. Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vied for delegates in a grueling campaign with no end in sight.
After an early series of low-delegate, single-state contests, Super Tuesday was anything but — primaries and caucuses spread across nearly half the country in the most wide-open presidential campaign in memory.
McCain was the Republican front-runner, all but unchallenged in winner-take-all primaries in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and his home state of Arizona.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, struggling to sustain his candidacy, concentrated on Missouri and California as well as several caucuses states.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee concentrated in a swath of Southern and border states. Texas Rep. Ron Paul had the fourth spot on the ballot.
In the first contest decided Tuesday, Huckabee won all 18 delegates at the West Virginia GOP convention. Romney had hoped to claim victory there, but with McCain trailing, his backers switched their support to Huckabee to deprive Romney of the win.
Addressing the convention beforehand, Romney asked voters, "Are we going to put a true conservative in the house that Ronald Reagan built or are we going to take a left turn?"
Earlier, on NBC's "Today" show, McCain said he had to convince voters that he is the conservative candidate. "I've got the record, and I can lead this nation in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism," he said.
Obama and Clinton conceded in advance that neither was likely to emerge from the busiest day in primary history with anything more than a relatively narrow edge in Democratic convention delegates.
"Senator Clinton, I think, has to be the prohibitive favorite going in given her name recognition, but we've been steadily chipping away," said Obama, seeking to downplay expectations.
As she voted in Chappaqua, N.Y., Clinton acknowledged, "The stakes are huge."
Already, both campaigns were looking ahead to Feb. 9 contests in Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington state and Feb. 12 primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. And increasingly, it looked like the Democrats' historic race between a woman and a black man would go into early spring, possibly longer.
Republicans had 1,023 Super Tuesday delegates at stake in 15 primaries, six caucuses and one state convention.
The evening began with McCain holding 102 delegates, to 93 for Romney, 43 for Huckabee and four for Paul. It takes 1,191 to win up the nomination.
Democrats had 1,681 delegates to allocate in primaries in 15 states and caucuses in seven more plus American Samoa.
Clinton led Obama in the delegate chase as the polls opened, 261 to 196, on the strength of so-called superdelegates. They are members of Congress and other party leaders, not chosen by primary or caucus-goers.
The de facto national primary was the culmination of a relentless campaign that moved into overdrive during Christmas week.
After a brief rest for the holiday, the candidates flew back to Iowa on Dec. 26 for a final stretch of campaigning before the state's caucuses offered the first test of the election year. New Hampshire's traditional first-in-the-nation primary followed a few days later, then a seemingly endless series of campaign days interspersed by debates and a handful of primaries and caucuses.
Along the way, the poorest performers dropped out: Democratic Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; and Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
Former Sen. John Edwards pulled out of the Democratic race last week, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani left the Republican field.
Edwards offered no endorsement as he exited, instead leaving Obama and Clinton to vie for help from his fundraisers and supporters.
But Obama benefited from an endorsement by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who made a series of campaign appearances in California as well as his home state of Massachusetts.
Giuliani quit the race and backed McCain in the same breath, clearing the way for the Westerner in New York and New Jersey.
Giuliani's departure also made it possible for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to back McCain. He said he would not have done so as long as the former mayor was in the race.
Obama and Clinton spent an estimated $20 million combined to advertise on television in the Feb 5 states.
Obama spent $11 million, running ads in 18 of the 22 states with democratic contests. Clinton ran ads in 17, for a total of $9 million.
Neither advertised in Illinois, Obama's home state.
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