John McCain seized command of the race for the Republican presidential nomination early Wednesday, winning delegate-rich primaries from the East Coast to California. McCain's victory in the Golden State dealt a crushing blow to his closest pursuer, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
In the competition that counted the most, the Arizona senator had 570 delegates, nearly half of the 1,191 needed for the nomination - and far ahead of his rivals (Romney has 251 and Huckabee175).
Even so, Romney and Huckabee said they were staying in the race.
Polling place interviews with voters suggested subtle shifts in the political landscape.
For the first time this year, McCain ran first in a few states among self-identified Republicans. As usual, he was running strongly among independents. Romney was getting the votes of about four in 10 people who described themselves as conservative. McCain was wining about one-third of that group, and Huckabee about one in five.
McCain, the early Republican front-runner whose campaign nearly unraveled six months ago, won in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Missouri, Delaware and his home state of Arizona - each of them winner-take-all primaries. He also pocketed victories in Oklahoma and Illinois.
Huckabee, won a series of Bible Belt victories, in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee as well as his own home state of Arkansas. He also triumphed at the Republican West Virginia convention.
Romney won a home state victory in Massachusetts. He also took Utah, where fellow Mormons supported his candidacy. His superior organization produced caucus victories in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Alaska and Colorado.
Nine of the Republican contests were winner take all, and that was where McCain piled up his lead.
Democrats and Republicans alike said the economy was their most important issue. Democrats said the war in Iraq ranked second and health care third. Republican primary voters said immigration was second most important after the economy, followed by the war in Iraq.
The survey was conducted in 16 states by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks.