Why Huckabee's Staying in the Race

After barnstorming Kansas on Friday in hopes of rallying "values" voters to caucus for him on Saturday, former Gov. Mike Huckabee landed in Washington, D.C., at about 1 a.m., just eight hours before he was scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference to remind them he's still running for president. Sensing the disconnect between social conservatives and de facto Republican nominee Sen. John McCain—one echoed by Huckabee's landslide victory in Saturday's GOP caucus—Huckabee dove right into the breach Saturday morning, brandishing his religious right credentials, first by telling the crowd that Biblical scripture is the root of his political views, and then by quoting Ecclesiastes: "A wise man's heart directs him toward the right, but a foolish man's heart directs him toward the left."

The opening went over well and got a standing ovation from Saturday's CPAC crowd, which appeared to include as many religious youth voters as those from the party establishment. Twenty-somethings with "student" labels on their badges and Liberty University pins and stickers were as visible as any of the big heavies and donors designated "cosponsors". Huckabee hadn't come to please the latter group anyway. Rather, he touched on faith and morality early and often throughout his speech, no matter the "queasiness" it causes among the D.C. GOP establishment. "I realize it's not politically correct to say what I'm about to say, but I've believed it as a teenager and I will not recant it now," Huckabee began, before stating that in his view, America is a great nation because "it was founded by people who were first on their knees before they were on their feet."

Over the next 45 minutes, Huckabee hit the social conservative high notes—stopping embryonic stem-cell research and amending the constitution to ban abortion and gay marriage, to sealing our borders and cozying up to the gun lobby. "We believe that if you knock on our front door and you're hungry, we'll ask you to go sign the guest book and try to feed you. But if you break through the window in the middle of the night, then God help you."

Huckabee also signaled his intention to continue the Bush administration's view of preemption in the war on terror. "This nation must rally to the point where we recognize there is no compromise, there is no alternative," he said. "We must win, they must lose. Islamo-fascism must disappear from this earth."

He also reminded the crowd of his working-class roots—the first of his family to graduate from high school, let alone go to college—and that he, not McCain, has proven himself capable of beating Hillary Clinton. "I'm the only person in this race who's run against the Clinton political machine and beat it," he said, referring to his success running as a Republican lieutenant governor and governor in traditionally Democratic Arkansas in the 1990s.

Despite constant assurances that he was staying in the race, Huckabee arrived at CPAC with many wondering, and more than a few hoping, that he might quit. "I know there's speculation I might come here today to announce that I might be getting out of the race," Huckabee said to a chorus of "Nooo!" from a crowd still feeling burned by Mitt Romney's announcement Thursday to suspend his campaign. But, to an equally resounding chorus of applause and, perhaps relief, Huckabee assured them that he was not quitting. "Why? Because I do believe America is about making choices and not echoing that of others."

Road weary from campaigning and still recovering from a stomach bug that kept him up all night on Wednesday, Huckabee has remained steadfast on the trail over the last few days, buoyed by his resurrecting Super Tuesday performance even as members of his party wonder why he's still at it when the Republican nomination appears all but declared for McCain. "I stay in this race not to be a fly in the ointment," Huckabee said Saturday, a seeming attempt to assuage, or maybe prod, those Republicans angry that he hasn't cleared the field yet for McCain. "But because our party is about a choice, not an echo."

Huckabee's all-out campaigning on Friday in Kansas—nine events over 14 hours—and recent fundraising efforts in New York indicate a final push to stay relevant. With almost $2 million raised in the last week and his big win in Kansas, Huckabee gains some steam heading into primaries in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. on Tuesday.

At a press conference following his CPAC speech, Huckabee basically said the reason that he's not dropping out is to spar with McCain for a few more weeks in hopes of producing a more "battle-tested" GOP general election candidate. "I would hope that the Republican Party is mature enough, big enough and smart enough that it knows that competition breeds excellence," he said, while acknowledging that he's gotten a "few calls" from Republican party officials asking him to drop out and clear the field. "But they're all McCain supporters so I would expect them to," Huckabee added. Considering he'd been written off weeks if not months ago, and now finds himself as one of two candidates left, Huckabee also seemed to be relishing his remaining in the race as a way to stick it to the media. Among party insiders and D.C. GOP fundraisers, there is a sentiment that Huckabee hopes to raise his profile for future political ambitions. So, he has nothing to lose by staying in the race, does he? "No, I don't guess I do. In other words I have no place to go, right?"

You said it governor, not us.