There were some distressing numbers for John McCain in the Virginia primary on Tuesday night, and not just the length of time it took for the networks to feel comfortable calling his victory.
Nearly one-third of voters who said that they believed McCain would be the candidate most likely to beat the Democratic nominee come the general election nevertheless voted for McCain's opponent, Mike Huckabee. In other words, 30 percent of Republican primary-goers were willing to risk the White House rather than vote for the Arizona Republican. By contrast, those who thought Huckabee was best equipped to beat a Democratic challenger voted for him 98 percent of the time.
The warning signs don't end there. Voters who described themselves as "conservative" sided with Huckabee over McCain by a margin of 58 percent to 32 percent. Those who said the attribute they most value in a nominee was that he "shared their values" also went to the former Arkansas governor: 68 percent to 48 percent. And those who said the quality that mattered most to them was a candidate who they believed in, split their votes between the two GOP candidates: 48 percent each.
While McCain may have shored up the nomination with his win in Virginia, evidence of conservative discontent is plentiful. Voters who made up their minds in the last week chose Huckabee by a margin of 52 percent to 43 percent. Those who decided in the last three days, meanwhile, went with the former Arkansas governor by a smaller gap of 49 to 48 percent, even though McCain has been labeled the presumptive nominee since Mitt Romney's departure from the race.
And then there is this, for the stat lovers. In what has become a consistent head-scratching feature of exit polling, McCain was the preferred candidate among those voters who disapprove of the Iraq War: 48 percent to 34 percent.
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