Huckabee's Very Silent Night

By Matthew Philips

What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday, the press and a crowd of supporters filled a sprawling event center outside Little Rock for the Huckabee watch party. There were balloons and confetti, country music and over 1,000 cheering people to celebrate Huckabee's surprising Super Tuesday wins in the South.

But on Potomac Primary night, the scene was deathly silent. Again in Little Rock, Ark., the Huckabee watch party--if you can even call it a party, was in the empty lobby of a downtown bank building. No supporters, no signs, no confetti, not even the ubiquitous Brooks & Dunn tunes that have become mainstays of every Huckabee event. Chuck Norris was nowhere to be seen. Just a handful of reporters and cameramen milling around, sitting on the floor (nowhere else to sit) wondering why we'd come all the way to Little Rock from D.C. on Tuesday. The answer was obvious: money. A deserted lobby in Little Rock is surely cheaper than a big suburban event center, or any locale in D.C. for that matter.

You could almost hear a pin drop as Huckabee, just after 9 p.m. Central time, appeared from upstairs, dressed in the same suit he'd worn on the plane Tuesday morning, save for a bright red tie featuring white elephants in top hats. "Are those elephants?" a reporter asked. "Absolutely," he smiled. What did we think, he'd have donkeys on his tie?

In a 10-minute press conference, Huckabee said what he's said for the last week: that he's not going anywhere, not until McCain gets 1,191 delegates. And despite the virtual impossibility of winning the nomination, Huckabee is staying in to give social conservatives a choice. A choice for a pro-life candidate, someone who opposes embryonic stem-cell research, gay marriage, amnesty for illegal immigrants and campaign finance reform. Besides, competition breeds excellence. Don't we know that by now?

Huckabee said he'd just called McCain to congratulate him, the first time the two candidates had spoken in a week. Like all their dealings, it was a civil discussion. He's here to give McCain a sparring partner, to keep him sharp for the Democrats in November. Did McCain ask him to get out? "Of course not," Huckabee quipped. "That would be beneath his dignity," he said.

Then he stepped behind a curtain for some cable news interviews. He talked to both Greta Van Susteren and Larry King, joking with both that's he's like a bad penny that just keeps turning up. On Wednesday, Huckabee will turn up in Pewaukee, Wis., then Green Bay and in a week or two he'll probably turn up in North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. Heck, you might even see him in Vermont. Wherever there's an unsatisfied Republican, Huckabee will be there.