Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee dropped by Rhode Island Monday, telling supporters at a Warwick rally that he was not going to give up his long-shot campaign just yet.
The former Arkansas governor spoke to a few hundred chanting supporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel here, focusing a 40-minute speech on tax policy and family values.
Huckabee opened the rally by showing off the laid-back and playful demeanor that has become the trademark of his campaign. Before his speech, he played two songs on a bass guitar.
Huckabee then began his speech by telling voters he would not end his run for the Republican presidential nomination, which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has all but wrapped up.
"I never believed you get to the finish line by quitting before you get to the finish line," Huckabee told his impassioned supporters, who rarely took a break from cheering on their candidate.
Though Huckabee often referred to his underdog status in the Rhode Island primary elections, which will be held March 4, he focused mainly on promoting himself as his party's quintessential candidate.
On abortion, Huckabee said he was the only candidate in favor of a "human-life amendment to the Constitution."
Though he did not talk about the war in Iraq, Huckabee contrasted "the culture of death of the Islamic fascists" to America - a "country (that) always needs to be a country that stands for life."
The former governor also went into specifics on his domestic policy plans. He pointed out his successful education reforms in Arkansas, criticized the healthcare system - or "disease-care" system, as he called it - and called for lowering taxes, a message likely to resound with Rhode Islanders, who have some of the highest taxes in the country.
Huckabee argued that taxes hurt both "free enterprise" and individual Americans.
"There's a reason the average American is less afraid of getting mugged than getting audited," said Huckabee. "If you get mugged, it's over in just a minute," he joked.
The candidate then offered his own solution: Eliminate the Internal Revenue Service. He won over the crowd with his suggestion that "April 15th could be just another beautiful day in Rhode Island." Huckabee has been advocating a "Fair Tax" plan, in which a national sales tax would replace the current income tax system.
Huckabee ended his remarks on a light note by stressing the moral obligation of Rhode Islanders to support him - even if it takes immoral methods. The Southern Baptist minister joked that the crowd should not only vote for him, but also "let the air out of the tires" of anyone who wouldn't.
Huckabee acknowledged that the odds are stacked against him, both in the national race and in Rhode Island, but that didn't seem to dampen his support at the rally.
Richard Wilford, a former Brown student and a current pastor in Providence, told The Herald that Huckabee's emphasis on family values and religion are potential solutions to the "breakdown in family" in black culture.
Wilford, who is black, chuckled when asked if his vote for Huckabee would be wasted, since McCain needs about 200 delegates to secure the Republican nomination, which requires 1,191 delegates. Huckabee would need nearly 1,000 delegates to get his party's nod.
"It's not over until the fat lady sings - I think she's warming up," Wilford said with a smile.
One supporter, David Hathaway Sr., the coordinator and chairman of Huckabee's Rhode Island Delegate Selection and Steering Committee, said his candidate was primed for a strong Ocean State showing and that the negativity surrounding his chances was media spin.
"There's been an attempt to margialize his support base to only evangelical Christians," Hathaway said, while acknowledging that the campaign might not be quite ready for a nomination victory. Citing Ronald Reagan's failed 1976 bid for the nomination, Hathaway said of the Huckabee camp, "it takes time to fully form what they've got."
Despite trailing in national polls, Huckabee sounded optimistic about his chances of at least prolonging the race until the Republican National Convention in early September. The candidate said that wins in Rhode Island and Texas and a strong Ohio showing could bring the campaign to the Minneapolis convention.
A recent poll sponsored by the American Research Group shows Huckabee trailing McCain in the state, 18 percent to 65 percent. The poll was conducted from Feb. 20 to 21.
© 2008 Brown Daily Herald via U-WIRE