PEWAUKEE, WISC. -- Most didn't care; others, resolutely defiant. When told that Mike Huckabee didn't have much of a shot at winning the nomination, supporters said they were voting for him anyway.
"If God wants him in, he'll win," said Lissa Eske, of Oconomowoc. "And even if he can't, I'll vote for what's right." She had driven 20 minutes to see him. A caregiver at a nursing home, Eske said she was "concerned" about McCain's "liberal leanings" and that he was "overly focused on the war." More importantly, she liked Huckabee and trusted him. When she casts her vote next week, Eske said it was a vote for Huckabee, not against McCain.
To the vibrant crowd of more than 500 people, Huckabee said, "People ask me, why am I staying in this race? Well, first of all, I got in it to win and I'm staying in it to win." The audience cheered. "If nobody gets 1,191 delegates before the convention, then we'll settle it at the convention like it used to be done in the old days and I'll take my chances there like anybody else."
Kent Moore, of Waukesha, has been following Huckabee for a while now. He wants Huckabee to stay in the race, protesting the notion McCain would win the nomination without having a contest of ideas. He said he would vote for Huckabee as a way to keep "McCain going to the right" and not "off the reservation."
It was an argument Huckabee acknowledged in his speech.
"In many ways, the discussion over the next several weeks is not just about the next election, it is about the next generation," he said. "It's not just about the politics of the Republican party, it's about the principles of the Republican party. It's not just about winning and losing an election, it's about winning and losing a culture. It's about whether or not we will stand for something or whether we will fall for anything just so that we can beat the other guys."
He continued, "Ladies and gentlemen, if it doesn't matter anymore what we believe, then most of us probably wouldn't have gotten involved in politics anyway. Because most of us didn't get involved because of the game of it. We got involved because of the goal of it – which is to preserve, protect, and pass on a culture and a country for our kids."
What surprised Kelly Smith, a journalist living outside a town named Heartland, was the age range and makeup of the audience. He noted people in the crowd were in their late 30s and early 40s, bringing entire families of toddlers and pre-teens to the event. He also noted that, in an area with a sizeable evangelical community, it was surprising to him that "not a single Republican official had showed up."
Perhaps, Smith speculated, it was an indication that young families were seeking a new kind of leadership. With a vibrant talk radio environment in Wisconsin, where many conservative talk show hosts "hate McCain Feingold," he said it's hard to come to conclusions about who would win next week given the state's fierce independence.
"Wisconsin is kind of like Iowa," said Smith. "It's a state of mind."