Huckabee: "We need Alabama!"

Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckabee

Republican presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, speaks to supporters at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 10:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 10:02 p.m.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Mike Huckabee appealed to his evangelical base Saturday, telling an overflow crowd at a Baptist school it will take victories in Alabama and other conservative states to win the Republican presidential nomination.

"We need Alabama!" the former Arkansas governor told cheering crowd at Samford University.

Introduced warmly by GOP Gov. Bob Riley, Huckabee quoted Old Testament scripture and the Declaration of Independence. He drew applause for advocating an end to abortion, supporting a strong military and portraying illegal immigration as completely out of control.

"We need someone who will not just say things but go and do the things needed to get America back on track," Huckabee said.

Huckabee drew a standing-room crowd in a 280-seat auditorium, and as many as 1,600 people filled an overflow room. Huckabee's visit was announced late in the week, and organizers said they weren't sure how many to expect. Alabama's primary is Feb. 5.

"We obviously under estimated how many people would show up. I will never underestimate Alabama again," Huckabee said.

Later, speaking with reporters, Huckabee said his support extends beyond evangelical Christians to include Catholics who oppose abortion and people who support his policy ideas but aren't religious.

"The people didn't come here to see pastor Huckabee," said the ordained Baptist minister. "They came to see future president Huckabee."

The crowd was virtually all white and included many Samford students. Five freshmen friends all Republicans anxious to vote for president the first time said they were impressed with the way Huckabee related his Christianity to his proposals for government, including his stance against abortion.

"His policies are all in line with his faith, and I really like that," said Maribeth Browning.

Sarah Cottingham said it was refreshing to hear a candidate speak openly about his Christianity.

"It makes an impression that he's not afraid to talk about it," she said.

The five students hoped to attend an appearance by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in Birmingham on Sunday, but Obama's campaign Web site said all the tickets were gone.

Riley said Huckabee "has all the values that make the Republican Party what it is today" and shares the "fundamental beliefs" of many Alabamians, along with faith and tenacity.

"You combine those and you get a Mike Huckabee who will do the right thing regardless of what the polls say," said Riley, wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots.

Riley said in an interview after the event that his remarks weren't meant as an endorsement of Huckabee and he has made similar appearances for other Republican presidential hopefuls when they visited Alabama.

Huckabee attended a private fundraiser after his speech. He campaigned earlier in the day in Florida, which holds its primary on Tuesday.

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