Huckabee Shoots Down Reports He'll Skip Fla.
By Perry Bacon Jr.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- In front of more than 200 people at a hastily-organized rally in an airport hanger here last night, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee declared reports that he would not compete in the Sunshine State "crazy rumors," despite his campaign's decision not to air ads in a state so big that virtually it requires commercials to win.
"There's some pretty crazy rumors going around that the Huckabee campaign is pulling out of Florida, well, it doesn't look like it to me," he told said to loud applause. "We're not pulling out, we're pushing in," he added later.
Huckabee will appear in a debate in nearby Boca Raton on tonight, but his campaign is also looking beyond this state. Aides said he will leave Florida, where his top rivals are competing aggressively, on Saturday to campaign in Mobile, Ala. and Savannah, Ga. That reflects a decision his campaign has made to focus most of its time on primaries in the South and Midwest on Feb. 5, looking to turn Huckabee from the candidate of evangelical Christians to the Heartland's Man. A sweep of a group of states that also includes Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma on Feb. 5 would make the ex-governor a true contender for the nomination, although his odds of success are low, as his campaign is nearly out of money.
Huckabee's speech was mainly his standard stump rhetoric, with an emphasis on his support of a controversial proposal that would replace the current income tax structure with a 23 percent sales tax on all goods. But in a press conference, asked if the current market problems would provide a boost for the campaign of his rival, businessman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Huckabee was ready to attack.
"If one looks at his business career it was largely dealing with a capital company that took companies and broke them apart," Huckabee said. "People lost jobs, didn't gain jobs, a lot of that money that was made within those companies ended up offshore. I'm not sure how that helps the American economy...If that's how we recover America's economy, I'm not sure a lot of Americans benefit from that."
Romney for years ran Bain Capital, a firm that did often acquire companies in ways that led to layoffs, but also worked to provide seed money for the creation of new businesses, including Staples.
For Huckabee, stopping in Florida is important as he seeks to keep his profile high, despite his loss last weekend in South Carolina. The former governor is now constantly noting he is second among the GOP candidates in delegates to the GOP convention, as his wide margin of victory in Iowa has him slightly ahead of John McCain despite the latter's wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Romney has 59 delegates, Huckabee 40, McCain 36. Winning the nomination requires 1,191.
"Unlike any other election, this is going to come down to delegate count," Huckabee told reporters in Fort Lauderdale.
But the winner of the Florida primary will not only amass a large number of delegates, but pick up momentum heading into Feb. 5. Huckabee is unlikely to win here, as polls show he and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani are behind McCain and Romney, who are effectively tied.
Huckabee also noted his endorsement from a former candidate, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca), but Hunter's dismal performance in primaries suggest he's not likely to help Huckabee win in Florida or anywhere else.
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