SAN DIEGO -- Conservative, conservative, conservative. That was the word Mike Huckabee used again and again with reporters to emphasize his credibility as a contender for the Republican nomination. The usually light-hearted Arkansan spoke in a deliberate tone, a manner that barely masked his frustration about how the race was being framed.
"There has been somewhat of - almost a national media spin that this race is a two man race," said Huckabee. "And if so, I'd like to say that John McCain and I will definitely duke it out until the very last vote. Last night, the CNN debate was very frustrating for me. There seemed to be an unequal level of time that was allocated – and if people look at the delegate count…one has to have 1,191 delegates in order to be the nominee. So far, no one has even broken a hundred; there's only 8% of the delegates have yet been tabulated, and we're all fairly close to each other in the amount of delegates that any of the three of us have."
Huckabee accused the "Romney people" of circulating the notion that a vote for Huckabee would contribute to a McCain win.
"I want to be make it very clear: a vote for me is a vote for me. A vote for Romney is a vote for Romney. A vote for McCain is a vote for McCain. Anybody who suggests otherwise is trying to put a spin on it."
Continuing, Huckabee questioned Romney's quest to claim the conservative mantle: "If people are looking for a true conservative, somebody who hasn't had a recent change of opinion to become one, I would be the logical choice -in fact the only choice they have."
Although he would have "loved" to have Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsement, Huckabee seemed to undermine it by challenging the California governor's conservative credentials, and implicitly, McCain's.
"I would never have expected the governor of California to endorse me and, frankly, I'm probably a lot more conservative on a lot more issues than he would have been comfortable with – whether it's the second amendment, or pro-life issue, or marriage amendment issue or any number of things."
Huckabee later said that receiving former Republican candidate Duncan Hunter's endorsement last week probably meant more in the conservative hotbed of San Diego than Schwarzenegger's endorsement of McCain.
He added that he has no intention of quitting the race even though he hasn't won a state since Iowa.
"I am not a quitter," said Huckabee. "I did not get to where I am in life by quitting. Sometimes you can't win the game but the only way you can surely lose it is by walking off the field before the clock ends," said Huckabee
"I was in it when nobody thought I could be, I stayed in it when nobody thought I could. I continue to march on even when the de-facto-absolutely-guaranteed-frontrunner-going-to-win-the-nomination-going-to-be-the-next-president-kind-of-guys were so out in front of me that people didn't take me seriously."
"But today, Rudy Giuliani is not in the race, Fred Thompson is not in the race ... A bunch of folks have fallen to the wayside, and I'm still here. So, I plan to still be here."
Meantime, Huckabee said he had raised an additional $3.5 million in January after starting the year with just over $650,000 on hand. He emphasized how much the campaign had done with so little money. Huckabee also skewered Romney for spending "tens of millions of dollars to have the same market share as me."
"Under anybody's business model, that's not a very efficient or effective operation," he said. "If you have an MBA from Harvard, and you believe in trying to figure out the best way to build market share and you spend an enormous amount of money and you have a competitor spends a very small amount of money, but he's able to reach the same market share, it may say that that person has a more sellable product than you do. So maybe it would be appropriate to go out of business and merge your business with the one that has the more efficient model."