Mike Huckabee exulted last night in saying the Republican contest was a two-man race -- between him and McCain. (The map, which I've run before after seeing it on Rep. Steve Harrelson's website, shows the dominant religion, by county, across the U.S. Red is for Baptist.)
"He deserves credit for hanging in there and being the winsome personality he's been. We've all enjoyed him," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Romney backer. "But everybody knows Mike is not going to be in the final two. That hasn't changed."
Indeed, to Romney aides, Huckabee's victories were simply an ominous sign for McCain, who continues to lose the vote of self-described conservatives.
Romney spin aside, Huckabee's continuance as a thorn in McCain's side might temper the lovefest the two have been enjoying to date. But Huckabee is just about out of Baptistland potential, with only Mississippi left for pickings tailored to his message. Wait, strike that. He's got a few more opportunities, particularly Texas.
With those victories in hand, Huckabee answered the skeptics who said he no longer remained a factor in the GOP race. In his victory speech, he crowed that the pundits who earlier were calling this a two-man race were right about the number but wrong about the players.
Still, his wins may go further to ensure the ultimate triumph of McCain more than anything else.