Huckabee: Republicans deserve a choice

There's no Senate bid or third-party race in his future, Huckabee says at Monitor Breakfast.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Steadfast: Candidate Mike Huckabee says he will stay in the race.

Mike Huckabee will not launch a third-party presidential campaign and he will not run for the Senate, the former Arkansas governor said at a Monitor breakfast Tuesday.

As voters headed to the polls for primaries in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, Mr. Huckabee maintained that he is staying in the race – despite Sen. John McCain's prohibitive lead in the delegate count (724 to 234) – because he believes Republican voters deserve a choice. He says he'll keep his campaign going until Senator McCain has amassed the 1,191 delegates he needs to secure the Republican nomination.

But his pronouncements have not stopped the chattering classes from compiling lists of what they think Huckabee is really aiming for: vice president? Chairman of the GOP? Talk-show host?

"Me running a third party, oh no, absolutely not," he said. "I'm a Republican. I'm glad to be a Republican. I want to work from within the party…. And to me third- party bids are at best futile efforts.'

Huckabee also "absolutely, categorically" ruled out a Senate bid, even though a Democrat – Sen. Mark Pryor – is up for reelection in Arkansas and the filing deadline is March 10.

"There is a greater chance that I will dye my hair green and get tattoos all over my body and do a rock tour with Amy Winehouse than there is that I would run for the Senate," he asserted. "So let me put that one to rest."

Analysts have also speculated that Huckabee is staying in so he can keep accumulating delegates and thus boost his clout at the September convention, including in the drafting of the party platform. Unlike McCain, Huckabee says he would fight to have an antiabortion, human life amendment to the Constitution in the platform.

"There are a lot of people who will go to that convention as supporters of mine for a reason," he said. "And whether it is for the tax reformation or the human life amendment, strong national defense, transportation issues, I think there are a number of reasons people are supporting me. It is not just, as some would like to suggest and continually try to say, the Evangelicals."

Huckabee voiced frustration that media coverage of him usually mentions his past as a Baptist preacher – "an attempt to ghettoize me for a very small part of my biography," he said. After the breakfast, he asserted that the "common thread" of support for his campaign is not the "faith thread." If anything, "it's the thread of middle class, or even underclass."

One of the abiding fascinations of Huckabee's campaign – especially after winning two out of three contests last weekend – has been his ability to run on a shoestring budget.

"The last two weeks have been record fundraising weeks for us," Huckabee said. "We have had an amazing uptick in contributions. If anybody thinks our supporters are winding down, I've got to tell you they are winding up. We raised $1 million in six days. That was more than we raised in the first six months of the entire campaign."

His plan from the outset was to run "a cash-only operation where we functioned at the level … we could afford," he said. "That kept us very small and nimble, able to react and respond. But never at the point of collapse on any given month. And I attribute a lot of that to Chip [Saltsman] for managing an extraordinarily frugal campaign and being probably the most penny-pinching, cost-conscious campaign manager I have ever seen."

Political analysts have been weighing whether Huckabee's continuing campaign is hurting McCain. Some Republicans, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have called on Huckabee to drop out.

GOP pollster Whit Ayres says Huckabee helps McCain, as long as Huckabee remains positive and does not stimulate a third-party challenge from the right.

"It allows him [McCain] to continue to stay in the news," and to keep winning primaries, says Mr. Ayres, noting McCain's large lead in polls for Tuesday's contests. "And continual, very conservative criticism of John McCain makes him even more attractive to the independents who will decide the outcome of the race in November."

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