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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 07:48 GMT
McCain sees 'way to go' to finish line
By David Willis
BBC News, Phoenix, Arizona

John McCain and wife Cindy at his election night rally in Phoenix, Arizona
Mr McCain won several winner-takes-all states, keeping his lead

With a sense of caution that has become his trademark, John McCain used his speech to supporters on Super Tuesday almost to dampen expectations rather than elevate them.

Still very much the front-runner in the race for his party's nomination for president, his speech to a cheering crowd at the Arizona Biltmore hotel was laden with "way to go's" and "long way aheads".

The McCain camp has been blind-sided by a candidate many here had written off: Mike Huckabee's success tonight is a sign of the support that still remains amongst social conservatives for a candidate they can call their own.


And despite the fact that Senator McCain's arch rival Mitt Romney had won more seats, it was the former Baptist preacher to whom Mr McCain initially referred in his remarks to the crowd - paying tribute to his robust campaigning.

For Mr McCain ultimately to triumph in this race, he knows he may well have to find a way to charm those same social conservatives who have so fallen for the plain-speaking Mr Huckabee.

Three-horse race

That Mr McCain has trouble persuading some in his party of the strength of his conservative credentials is nothing new.

Mike Huckabee at his election night rally in Little Rock, Arkansas
Mike Huckabee's success took the McCain campaign by surprise

There are those in the GOP who regard him as too much of a maverick, a moderate too ready to make deals with the Democrats.

My sense before Super Tuesday was that those who questioned Mr McCain's conservative credentials were ultimately likely to support him simply out of a sense of pragmatism: the fact that he is the most electable Republican - the best hope the party has of holding on to the White House.

Now I am not so sure. Mr McCain's people (who've been dubbed "McCainiacs") clearly still have some work to do in galvanising the right wing of the party.

They hoped it would be done and dusted by the end of Super Tuesday.

Instead, a two-horse race now has a third runner, and it could take a while to cross the finishing line.

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