Monday, February 4, 2008


Mike Huckabee hasn’t won a Republican presidential contest in a month. The result: Money is tighter, his staff is smaller, and he can’t seem to get the attention he once did.

Still, he says he’s sticking around for the long haul — well past tomorrow’s coast-to-coast primaries and caucuses if need be.

“I’ll stay in until someone has 1,191 delegates,” the former Arkansas governor said yesterday in a telephone interview from Kennesaw, Ga. He was referring to the number of convention delegates needed to win the party nod. “A year ago, nobody said I’d still be here. Look who’s still on his feet.”

With 21 states holding Republican contests tomorrow and offering more than 1,000 delegates, Mr. Huckabee’s continued presence could be a major factor in what essentially has become a two-man race between Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney.

A Southerner and ordained Baptist minister, Mr. Huckabee hopes to perform strongly, if not win, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Missouri to reinvigorate his campaign.

In those states, Mr. Huckabee could end up helping Mr. McCain — he calls him a friend — by peeling away votes and delegates from Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is competing there after essentially ceding big-prize Northeast battlegrounds.

Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Romney draw much of their support from the same pool of conservative voters, while Mr. McCain tends to attract voters of all ideological stripes.

The Huckabee campaign has been marked by peaks and valleys.

He toiled at the back of a crowded pack for most of last year. But aided by fellow Christian evangelicals and his communications skills, Mr. Huckabee broke through last fall and won the leadoff Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, despite being badly outspent by Mr. Romney. He hasn’t had the same luck anywhere else.

Mr. Huckabee barely competed in New Hampshire and Michigan, but he fell after putting up a fierce fight in South Carolina. By Florida, Mr. Huckabee’s money was drying up and his staff was thinning; he made little effort there. He mostly sat on the sidelines at a California debate last week while Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney fought it out.

“I didn’t come here to umpire a ball game between these two. I came here to get a chance to swing at a few myself,” he complained.

It’s possible that Mr. Huckabee has motives beyond winning the nomination. Some supporters suspect he’s staying in the race to ensure that he has a say when the party creates its platform at the national convention in September and to emerge as an emboldened leader of the religious right. He disputes such talk.

“I’ve never thought of my campaign as being all about just being the evangelical candidate,” he said.

Speculation also abounds that he is positioning himself for a vice presidential slot. And with no job to fall back on and with books to sell and speaking engagements to line up, it’s possible Mr. Huckabee thinks his stock will rise higher the longer he stays in the race.

“I’m running for president,” he contends, refusing to entertain such talk.

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