Arizona Senator John McCain has been declared the winner in the South Carolina primary results, beating out former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for a significant win in the first Southern primary.

Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson won over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to take third place in the race.

McCain led over Huckabee with 33 percent to 30 percent in a tight race.

Fred Thompson followed in third at 16 percent, with Mitt Romney in a close fourth at 15 percent.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul took fourth with 4 percent, with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in fifth at 2 percent.

A smiling McCain thanked voters for coming out in South Carolina on Saturday in his victory speech from Charleston,

“You came out to exercise the first responsibility of an American, not just those South Carolinians who voted for us, but all of you who voted today for the candidate you believe is best and is suited to lead the country you love.”

“I’m very confident that we’ll win in Florida,” McCain said in an interview with the Associated Press.

“We showed that the first-in-the-South primary is a very important victory, and it gives us a very important progress that we can carry right through Florida and February 5th.”

In a concession speech to his supporters, Huckabee said “I want to thank him [McCain] for running a civil and a good and a decent campaign to elevate politics and he’s to be congratulated.”

Huckabee encouraged his supporters to look forward to continuing battle for the presidential nomination, saying, “This is not an event, this is a process and the process is far, far from over… the path to the White House is not ending here tonight.”

Voters in the South Carolina primary have traditionally chosen the eventual Republican presidential nominee in every race since 1980, according to the AFP.

A win for McCain in the state could provide a significant boost for him going into the important Florida primary on January 29 and the Super Tuesday primaries in 24 states on February 5.

South Carolina voters indicated they were more concerned about the economy than about illegal immigration, the war in Iraq or terrorism, according to exit polls.

Younger voters voted largely for Huckabee, while those 45 and older voted primarily for McCain.

Among those who stated they attend church weekly, voters chose Huckabee 37 percent to 27 percent for McCain, according to CNN.

Huckabee also led among those who claimed the label of born-again or evangelical Christian.

Bad weather played a factor in keeping voter turnout light to moderate in most precincts across the state.

Rain and snow were not the only problems to plague South Carolina voters on Saturday as they headed out to the polls.

Malfunctioning voting machines in Horry County, including Myrtle Beach, resulted in some voters having to leave and others being forced to use paper ballots or random scraps of paper to choose their candidates.

Ann Turner © 2007 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved