(CNSNews.com) - The Delaware Republican primary ended with a boost for George W Bush, a surprise for John McCain, and a disappointment for Steve Forbes. Bush came in first, with 51 percent of the vote, or 15,102 votes; McCain, who never even campaigned in Delaware, ended up with 25 percent (7,547 votes); and Steve Forbes, who spent millions of dollars courting voters, received only 20 percent support (5,857). Republican Alan Keyes was a distant fourth, with only 4 percent (1,138).
Bush visited Delaware five times, he had the support of what the press calls the Party establishment, and he spent heavily on television advertising. His first-place finish in Delaware was pretty much taken for granted until last week's New Hampshire primary established John McCain as a serious threat to his candidacy.
"I thank the people of Delaware for their vote of confidence," Bush said while campaigning Tuesday night in New Hampshire. "I think it's going to be helpful for people in South Carolina to see the people of Delaware listened ... and made their decision."
The big story in Delaware involves publisher Steve Forbes, who has been spending his personal fortune in pursuit of a goal that seems ever more elusive. Forbes campaigned in Delaware twelve times and he won there in 1996. He was counting on a repeat performance Tuesday to give some badly needed momentum to his presidential bid.
Tuesday night, a spokesman said Forbes would not pull out of the race, but by Wednesday morning, a leading wire service reported that Forbes was indeed quitting - the formal announcement, expected Thursday.
Forbes cancelled today's planned appearances in Michigan, and he's reportedly informed his staff that he's made up his mind. He would be the seventh Republican to quit the race since it began - many months before last week's New Hampshire primary.
A second place finish was sweet for Arizona Sen. John McCain, who spent no time and no money in Delaware. "I'm extremely surprised and pleased that we'd get that kind of vote in a state we never visited," McCain said Tuesday night in Charleston, South Carolina. "It's bound to give us a boost."
It's been one boost after another for McCain after he won the New Hampshire primary. In fact, he appears on the covers of three big newsmagazines this week - Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report.
In a sarcastic reference to all the McCain publicity, George W. Bush noted that he won the Delaware vote "quite substantially and I'm confident the news media will put me on the cover of every magazine."
The Delaware vote gives Bush only 12 delegates to the Republican National Convention.
The next big battle comes February 19 in South Carolina, where Bush has released new advertisements linking McCain to lobbyists. "It's time the rest of the nation learns about the ... McCain we know," says one advertisement.
McCain is running his own ads in South Carolina, asking voters, "Do we really want another politician in the White House that we can't trust?" McCain accuses Bush of "twisting the truth like Clinton," for criticizing McCain's tax plan. Bush called it a plan only a Democrat could like.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), a Bush supporter, issued a statement saying, "There is no excuse for the negative ads that Sen. McCain's strategists and politicos are running in South Carolina" However, Sen. Thurmond, at 98 years old, is very much the entrenched, "establishment" type of Republican that McCain is alienating - apparently increasing his appeal to voters in the process.
The polls indicate another close race between Bush and McCain in South Carolina. Before New Hampshire, Bush had a 20-point lead in the Palmetto State, but a Washington Post/ABC poll released Tuesday shows Bush leading McCain among likely SC primary voters by just 48-43 percent.
McCain's star is rising in other states as well. In New York, the latest Marist College poll shows Bush leading McCain 48-39 percent among likely GOP voters. McCain polled only 15 percent in New York in a Marist poll in December. He's also closing the gap in California and Michigan.
Bush's lead over Gore appears to be slipping as well: For most of the past year Bush led Gore by 10-20 points, but recent polls show him leading Gore 49-45 percent.
McCain, meanwhile, is turning all the buzz about him into cash and volunteers by running an effective Internet campaign. A political scientist quoted in Wednesday's Washington Post says McCain's campaign shows that the Internet lets politicians benefit from momentum as never before.
According to the newspaper, in the one week since McCain won the New Hampshire Republican primary, he's raised $2.2 million over the Internet, recruited 26,000 new volunteers, and - according to the Post - "rewritten the rules for political campaigning in the cyber age."