Republican Mike Huckabee won a hotly contested presidential primary contest in Georgia on Tuesday thanks to a folksy style and a campaign that weighed heavily on conservative values in a successful bid to attract Christian evangelicals. The former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister edged out Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the victory in Alabama as well.
Georgia, with its stalwart base of religious voters, had been critical for Huckabee. He also cast himself as the champion of the "Wal-Mart Republican" rather than the "Wall Street" wing of the party represented by Romney.
Exit polling from the Republican primary showed Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, defeating Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who ran third. Huckabee, with strong appeal to fellow Southern Baptists, earlier won his home state and Georgia.
Six in 10 Georgia GOP voters on Tuesday were white evangelicals and born-again Christians. Huckabee won four in 10 of their votes, according to surveys of voters as they left the polls.
Jeff Spencer was one of them. A Baptist minister in rural Bryan County east of Savannah, Spencer said social issues were his top concern.
"Before Huckabee came up, there wasn't a real conservative, Republican view in the race as far as the right wing goes," Spencer said.
Paul Reynolds, co-chairman of Huckabee's Alabama campaign, said Huckabee made two trips to Alabama in the closing stretch — more than any other candidate — and that helped show Alabama Republicans that they had much in common with him.
"The candidate is a direct reflection of Republicanism in Alabama," Reynolds said.