John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, found himself sternly rebuked by a broad range of conservative and evangelical voters over the weekend, after losing two out of three states expressing nominee preferences on Saturday to the only other rival still standing in the race, Mike Huckabee.
In a shock outcome, Mr Huckabee convincingly won caucuses in Kansas with a margin of 60 per cent to just 24 per cent for Mr McCain, who, since emerging as the virtually unassailable front-runner has been struggling to woo wary conservatives.
While catching up to Mr McCain's delegate count remains virtually impossible, Mr Huckabee, who performed well in southern states on Super Tuesday, has again demonstrated he has a robust following. He also won Louisiana on Saturday, though the state's delegates will remain officially uncommitted because he fell short of a 50 per cent threshold. In Washington, Mr McCain prevailed, but barely, by 26 per cent to 24 per cent.
"We both made our case, and ours seemed to sell pretty well," Mr Huckabee said. "While people in Washington and insiders continue to maybe gravitate to the senator's campaign, people across America are gravitating to our campaign and realising there is a choice." A former pastor, Mr Huckabee continues to draw evangelicals. He also performed well, according to exit polls, among voters who said sharing "values" with the candidate was important. He has little money left and little grassroots organisation. His folksy style continues to help, however.
Addressing a convention of conservatives meeting in Washington DC on Saturday even before the results came in, Mr Huckabee said that he was not put off by Mr McCain's daunting delegate lead. "I didn't major in math," he told an enthusiastic audience. "I majored in miracles and I still believe in them."
While Mr Huckabee's decision to remain in the race may be exasperating to Mr McCain and his supporters, there may be a more important purpose to it: to garner enough support to make it all but impossible for Mr McCain not to pick him as his running mate.