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Dobson: I Will Not Vote for McCain

John McCain edged towards the Republican presidential nomination early Wednesday, hours after one of the country's most prominent evangelicals became the latest conservative figure to distance himself from the Arizona senator's campaign.

If given the choice in November of voting for McCain or for one of the two Democratic contenders, said Focus on the Family Chairman Dr. James Dobson, he would for the first time in his life not vote for president at all.

" I cannot, and will not, vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience," Dobson said in a statement released to Laura Ingraham's radio show on Super Tuesday.

In Tuesday's multi-state primaries and caucuses, McCain led the Republican race with wins in nine states, giving him another 511 delegates. In second place is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with wins in seven states (176 additional delegates).

With wins in five southern states and 147 more delegates in the bag, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee remained a significant factor, while maverick Rep. Ron Paul of Texas claimed nine delegates.

(According to the Associated Press, McCain now has a total of 613 delegates, compared with a total of 269 for Romney and 190 for Huckabee and 14 for Ron Paul.) A total of 1,191 is needed to win the GOP nomination.

McCain took New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Illinois, Connecticut, Missouri, Delaware and Oklahoma and California. Romney won in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah, Montana, Colorado and North Dakota and Alaska. Huckabee captured West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.

In the tight Democratic race, in which delegates are awarded by proportional representation, Sen. Hillary Clinton won eight states, giving her an additional 499 delegates. Close on her heels was Sen. Barack Obama, who won more states on Super Tuesday (13) but picked up fewer delegates - 491.

Overall, Clinton has 760 delegates, and Obama has 693, the Associated Press reported. A total of 2,026 is required for the>

Clinton won in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Tennessee and her home state of New York, California, and she looked set to add New Mexico.

Obama took his home state, Illinois, as well as Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Colorado, Delaware, Connecticut, Minnesota, Kansas, Idaho and North Dakota, Utah, and Missouri.

Few exit poll surprises

Preliminary exit poll data from a number of states showed conservative support split between McCain's two rivals, with about 80 percent of Romney voters and 75 percent of Huckabee voters describing themselves as conservative. By contrast, 49 percent of declared McCain voters described themselves as conservative.

The evangelical Protestant vote appeared to be divided fairly evenly, with McCain, Romney and Huckabee each polling around 30 percent, according to MSNBC.

CNN analysts noted that Republican voters opposed to the administration's policy in Iraq were favoring McCain, despite his strong stance on the war and the continuing U.S. mission. The trend suggested that such voters likely held moderate positions on other issues, more in keeping with McCain's than those of his conservative opponents.

In delegate-rich California's GOP primary (McCain, 42 percent; Romney, 32; Huckabee, 12), Huckabee won the support of about a quarter of evangelicals, the Associated Press reported.

Nearly one-third of California Republicans polled named immigration as the most important issue facing the country. Those favoring deportation of illegal immigrants supported Romney by two to one.

The No. 1 issue for most GOP voters in California, however, was the economy, and they backed Romney as the candidate best qualified to manage it.

Around four in 10 of Republican voters in the state said abortion should be legal, and supported McCain. Those who said abortion should be outlawed favored Romney, although Huckabee also won backing among those voters.

In Democratic exit polls, Clinton won the support of more white women, Hispanics and those who said they wanted an experienced candidate. Obama got the backing of eight in ten blacks, about half of white male voters, more than 60 percent of the young white vote, and about seven in ten of voters saying they wanted "change."

'Best pro-life candidate'

In his statement Tuesday, Dobson said he was convinced McCain was not a conservative, and cited his positions on issues including the protection of marriage, embryonic stem cell research, political free speech and tax cuts.

"He has sounded at times more like a member of the other party," added Dobson, who made it clear he was speaking in his personal capacity and not on behalf of his organization.

" These decisions ... reflect my deeply held convictions about the institution of the family, about moral and spiritual beliefs, and about the welfare of our country."

Later in the day, Dobson told talk-show host Dennis Prager that he would vote for Romney if the former Massachusetts governor won the GOP nomination, although he stressed that his theology was very different from that of Romney, a Mormon.

Dobson's statement was the latest attack on McCain's candidacy from high-profile conservatives, including national radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who endorsed Romney on Tuesday.

Outspoken author Ann Coulter said on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes last week that if McCain was the Republican nominee, she would support -- and campaign for -- Clinton.

McCain has received backing from some social conservative Republicans, including Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a leading pro-lifer, who ended his own White House bid last October and endorsed the Arizona senator the following month.

Writing in the current issue of the National Catholic Register , Brownback called McCain "the best pro-life candidate to win in 2008."

In an implied criticism of Romney - whom detractors characterize as an opportunist who has shifted positions on abortion as a sop to conservatives - Brownback said McCain "is no Johnny-come-lately to the cause. John McCain is not pro-life out of convenience, but based on principle."

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