Three presidential candidates visited West Virginia on Tuesday, but only Mike Huckabee left with the support of the state Republican Party. The former Arkansas governor won with delegates' favor in the second round of roll call voting at the state party's convention in Charleston Tuesday.
Huckabee received 51 percent of the 1,100 final round votes after Senator John McCain's supporters voted for Huckabee in a maneuver to defeat first-round frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Now Huckabee qualifies to receive 18 of the state's 30 delegates to the Republican National Convention in September. Nine more will be selected by the West Virginia primary election on May 13.
Huckabee received 567 votes to defeat Romney's 521 votes in the final tally.
Romney was considered a West Virginia favorite going into the convention, partly because of his efforts campaigning in the state. At least 50 percent of the delegates were assumed to be undecided before the convention.
"Romney was here very early and garnered the support of some county chairmen," said Republican Party Chairman Doug McKinney on Monday.
Huckabee, Romney and Ron Paul all spoke to the delegates during the convention. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer spoke on behalf of McCain.
McCain, the frontrunner in the national polls, received only 12 votes in the final round after his supporters backed Huckabee. Paul was eliminated after the first round of votes, where he garnered 114 votes.
Though Paul was the first out for West Virginia, he received initial support from the Monongalia County delegation. Paul won the majority of the county's first-round votes by a wide margin, with 20 delegates supporting the Texas congressman.
At least some of that support was due to Paul's rapport with young voters in the county, according to Kevin Patrick, a West Virginia University student and delegate for Monongalia County. Patrick, who traveled to the Iowa caucuses in support of Paul, said many students can identify with Paul's commitment to social liberalism and fiscal conservatism.
"It's a little bit disheartening, but West Virginia is just one state out of 50, and we're going to keep campaigning," Patrick said.
Paul's supporters waved signs and chanted the candidate's name during the other candidates' speeches. A moderator eventually hushed the audience, after hecklers interrupted during Roemer's speech. As the former Louisiana governor shared an anecdote about a man carving wooden dogs, one outspoken onlooker woofed.
Paul wasn't the only candidate who received student support. WVU political science major Brian Dayton said he proudly cast a vote for Huckabee on behalf of Marshall County.
"I'm very happy. It was a big win for Huckabee today, especially because we were one of the first states with a decision out," Dayton said. "To see him speak today really confirmed everything that I thought to be true about him."
Huckabee was the last candidate to take the stage Tuesday at the Charleston Civic Center.
"I am almost tied with delegates that have spent 10, 15, 20 times what I have, and it kind of tells me something. It may be that it's time for the people to elect a president and not just the national media and the pundits," Huckabee said.
The former Baptist minister used his humble Arkansas roots as a springboard to discuss his dedication to family, veterans and his proposed "fair tax" plan.
"There are a whole lot of people out there that I believe want a voice in the White House who understand what struggles there are. A lot more Americans can relate to the Wal-Mart Republicans than they can to the Wall Street Republicans," Huckabee said.
He also stressed his commitment to controlling U.S. borders, reducing reliance n foreign oil and fighting the abortion rights movement.
"Every life has intrinsic value, and we elevate life. We celebrate life," he said. "If we are anything other than a pro-life nation, we have defied our founding."
The additional support helped boost Huckabee over Romney, though the former Massachusetts governor still managed to win four more of Monongalia County's delegates.
Romney pointed to his own business background as an advantage toward solving the country's economic woes and calming its fears.
"I'm convinced if America stays on the same course we are today, then we will become the France or Great Britain of the 21st century -- still a great nation but not the superpower of the world," Romney said.
Paul called the war in Iraq illegal and pledged to focus on the Constitution.
"If you're a true conservative and a true constitutionalist and understand the limited scope government should be, we really don't need the 16th Amendment, we really don't need the IRS, we really don't need the income tax," Paul said.
Attendants of the convention said they were pleased with the turnout and enthusiasm of the state's first convention. In the past, the candidates were chosen entirely by primaries. Under state law, parties can choose how they choose their delegates.
On Tuesday, 24 states held 43 nominating contests, including primaries and caucuses like West Virginia's. Republicans selected 1,020 delegates to their national convention in 15 primaries and six caucuses. Democrats selected 1,681 delegates in 16 primaries and seven caucuses for their national convention in Denver. The regular West Virginia primary is on May 13.
© 2008 The Daily Athenaeum via U-WIRE