Huckabee feeling momentum
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 4:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 4:58 p.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee trained for a marathon in South Carolina on Saturday as Republican primary voters cast ballots that he hoped would propel him forward in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
"I feel good. I feel like South Carolina is going to come though for us," Huckabee, training for his fifth marathon, told reporters as he finished a midday run. "I certainly feel like all the momentum is going our way right now."
The closely contested state was crucial for Huckabee, who needed to prove his victory in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses was no fluke.
A former Baptist minister, Huckabee was counting on grass-roots support from born-again Christians to outflank the superior funding and organization of Arizona Sen. John McCain, winner of the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary on Tuesday and the barely contested Nevada caucuses on Saturday, but did not make an all-out effort in South Carolina.
Without naming names, Huckabee tried to exploit McCain's weaknesses by calling attention to McCain's support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and railing against Washington insiders who have failed to fix the country's problems. McCain was first elected to Congress in 1982.
And he revived controversy over the Confederate flag, saying it should be up to South Carolina whether to fly the symbol — of racism to some, Southern pride to others — over the state Capitol dome. McCain rejected that position after losing the 2000 election, and he said last week he was proud of those who wanted the flag taken down.
Also competing for conservative votes was actor-politician Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee senator.
A snowy forecast in the more conservative upstate region did not bode well for Huckabee; rain was falling there and was expected to turn to snow by midafternoon.
"Our voters are like the Post Office — neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will hopefully keep them away," Huckabee told reporters at a polling place Saturday morning in Columbia, S.C. "What we're expecting is that our voters are committed and they'll go vote; we're telling them, no matter what the weather is in South Carolina, please go vote today."
He joked, "But if they're going to vote for somebody else, just stay home, forget about it."
Besides the weather, Huckabee may have been hurt by his decision to spend extra time campaigning in Michigan, where he came in third, instead of in South Carolina. Senior aides made a last-minute decision to return to Michigan last Sunday and Monday after seeing huge crowds there during a Michigan swing on Jan. 12 and 13.
His support from born-again or evangelical Christians was a double-edged sword for Huckabee; it propelled him to victory in Iowa, but it made many people think he appealed exclusively to religious conservatives.
Exit polls in New Hampshire and Michigan showed Huckabee had little support beyond evangelicals, and even among evangelicals, Romney beat Huckabee in Michigan and split the vote with Huckabee in New Hampshire.
Regardless of South Carolina's outcome, Huckabee insisted he can compete in Florida and the states ahead.
"Oh, sure," he said Saturday. "Look, this whole thing's been fluid. Nobody has won everything. It's still up in the air. We're still running first or close to first in every national poll there is."
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