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Huckabee's Campaign Keeps on Ticking

Mike Huckabee aims to keep John McCain on his toes. (AP.)

By Perry Bacon Jr.
VIRGINIA BEACH -- While Arizona Sen. John McCain keeps rolling out endorsements from GOP figures and is the party's presumptive nominee, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee says he has a simple rationale for staying in the race: He's winning states.

"By the way, since it's all over, it's an interesting thing someone didn't tell the people in Kansas and somebody forget to tell the folks in Louisiana," he told a crowd of several hundred in Virginia Beach, mocking what he calls the "national media" and "party bosses" for a "coronation" of McCain.

Wins in Kansas and Louisiana on Saturday emboldened Huckabee as he made stops in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Roanoke and Weyers Cave ahead of Tuesday's primaries in the Washington area. He touted an endorsement from Paul Weyrich, a conservative activist who had previously backed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and dispatched his campaign's lawyer to contest the results in Washington state, where state party officials called a close race for McCain even though not all the votes had been counted.

Huckabee aides don't expect to carry any of the states in tomorrow's primaries, and those losses make it closer to mathematically impossible for Huckabee to win the GOP nomination.

"We are in this race for you and every other conservative American," he told audience members in Virginia Beach.

Huckabee's campaign says he is not hurting McCain by staying in, but instead keeping media attention focused on the GOP race instead of the Democratic contest.

"Because MH is who he is, he will continue to campaign as he always has, in an honorable and honest way. He will draw distinctions, he will debate and debate hard, but he will always be civil and decent,"wrote Huckabee chairman Ed Rollins and campaign manager Chip Saltsman in a memo to supporters. "Even many McCain supporters have told us that they appreciate the constructive role that Governor Huckabee can play in the months to come, because a vigorous discussion will keep all the media 'oxygen' from migrating over to the Democratic contest."

In fact, pressure may grow for Huckabee to drop out precisely because he is showing McCain's problems with the party's conservative base. A tiny number of people voted in Kansas, but Huckabee achieved a blowout win there, despite McCain's backing from all of the key political figures in the state. Huckabee aides believe he can take more than 40 percent of the vote in Virginia, despite his skeletal organization here.

"Candidates like Governor Huckabee have really committed activists supporting them," said Gary Bauer, a social conservative activist who announced yesterday he would back McCain. "Senator McCain is going to need those activists to win in November. Work needs to be done between the senator and the base of the party."

And Huckabee, while not directly attacking McCain by name, is increasingly focused on issues where they differ. His stump speech, once focused more on his biography and personal anecdotes, now has a heavy emphasis on his embrace of a fence between the borders of the U.S and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants and constitutional bans on gay marriage and abortion, all positions where Huckabee differs from McCain.

"If somebody says, 'I want to be president, by the way I've been in the Senate,' what has the Senate done lately other than try to put before you an immigration bill you hated so much you burned and melted their phone lines until they finally got the message that they work for us, it's not the other way around," he said to loud applause in Virginia Beach.

And one of the Huckabee's backers, Michael Farris, a home-schooling advocate who is the founder of Patrick Henry College, an evangelical school in Purcellville, Loudoun County, blasted McCain's views on abortion, while not naming the senator.

"Babies should live in all of America," Farris said. "If a person can't get that right and thinks it should vary from state to state, by definition they are double-minded. By definition, we know if you can't get life right, you won't get national defense right."

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 11, 2008; 4:39 PM ET
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