WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Barraged by more questions about why he shouldn't drop out, Mike Huckabee pointed out that his presence in the race kept Republicans in the news cycle while the Democrats battled for a nominee.
He said the "worst thing that could happen" to any candidate on the Republican side would be to have a "de facto nominee" who would be "ignored" while Democrats "have the stage to themselves the next several months…deciding who they're putting on the stage."
"So instead of asking me to get out, the Republicans ought to be begging me to stay in so that we still have a contest going on – something you guys ought to be watching," said Huckabee to reporters at a hastily arranged press conference following news of his landslide victory in Kansas.
"Because you know and I know if I were to drop out today, nobody would be paying attention to any Republican until the Obama-Hillary race is settled."
Huckabee said it would be an "awfully weak party" that "can't handle competition," and that there was irony in the critique given how strongly Republicans advocate competition as the backbone of a strong marketplace.
"If competition in the marketplace is what creates a strong economy, wouldn't competition in the political marketplace create a stronger political environment in which to function. It, to me, is an absolute defiance of the basic, most essential Republican principle – that we are somehow better off if we just don't have any competition. "
When asked what he would say to those party members who are telling him to drop out of the race, Huckabee questioned those who insisted the Republican Party is a "big tent"
Huckabee wondered out loud, "How big is this supposed to be? It's not big enough for me and all these wonderful people voting for me in places like Kansas and Tennessee and Georgia and West Virginia and Arkansas and Alabama. And just how small are going to make this tent? Fact is, if they're going to shut out the voters in 27 states who haven't voted yet, how big of a tent are we going to have. So it really seems like some of these folks in leadership are in a panic mode. If they are in a point in the party where they cannot handle competition and cannot handle different ideas that go against the establishment and they want to control the message, we're in real trouble."
Told that his staying in the race might ruin his relationship with McCain, Huckabee said his opponent is a "grown man and that they would be able to create competition without having a "mean-spirited, nasty, negative, harsh demolition derby."
"We might teach the Democrats something," Huckabee offered. "Here's a contrast. The two most civil Republicans are still in the race. And the two most uncivil Democrats who have fought the hardest are still in the race. That may be shaping up or what's ahead in November."
So what does civil discussion about differences in opinion sound like? Told that one of McCain's top dogs in Virginia had just issued a statement calling for Huckabee to "take responsibility" for the "despicable tactics" of Common Sense's push polling, Huckabee responded that "if anyone needs to take responsibility, it would be John McCain whose McCain-Feingold finance act creates that nonsense."
"I think that was one of the worst things that ever happened in campaign election law," he said.
"You know, I'm not going to jail so I can make contact, tell these people privately what I've told them publicly: If you're doing pushcalling, you're hurting us," said Huckabee. "I think I've made that clear. I think it hurt us in South Carolina; I think in New Hampshire, I think it hurt us in Iowa. So, I'll say it again: I think pushpolling is a deplorable, despicable way to campaign. If someone things they're helping us, they're not. If they want to spend their money, there are a lot of other ways for it to be spent that would be helpful, this isn't. Now, I can't say that to them, because under McCain Feingold, I'm not allowed to have any coordination with them."
Huckabee continued, "If Sen. McCain hadn't pushed that bill through and created a stifling of free speech for some groups but an opening for others, we wouldn't be having this discussion today. So for his people to call on me to stop it? Has to be one of the most bizarre comments in this election cycle."