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Huckabee Keeps Fighting

This story was written by CBSNews.com political reporter Brian Montopoli.



Barring a significant and unforeseen development involving John McCain, Mike Huckabee will not be the Republican nominee for president.

But that hasn't kept the former Arkansas governor from staying in the race, a decision that has forced McCain to keep focused on the primaries instead of shifting gears for the general election.

On Tuesday, McCain beat Huckabee by less than ten percentage points in the Virginia primary, despite McCain's status as the clear frontrunner.

"He's exposing the soft underbelly of the nominee," conservative activist Bay Buchanan said of Huckabee. "He's reminding people that this is a man who can't motivate the base of the party to go out and enthusiastically support him."

The McCain campaign has largely been respectful of Huckabee's decision to remain in the race. On Wednesday, however, McCain admitted that he would prefer Huckabee exit as soon as possible.

"Of course I'd like for him to withdraw today. It would be much easier," McCain said. "But I respect...his right to continue in this race just as long as he wants to."

Huckabee has vowed to keep fighting at least until McCain has every single one of the 1,191 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. He says voters deserve an election, not a coronation.

"I know people say that the math doesn't work out," Huckabee said recently. "Folks, I didn't major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those too."

Indeed, a miracle is now perhaps Huckabee's best hope. According to CBS News estimates, McCain has 815 delegates at this point, and needs 376 more to clinch the nomination. Huckabee, meanwhile, has just 199 delegates - not many more than Mitt Romney, who left the race last week and endorsed McCain on Thursday. (Click here for state-by-state delegate tallies)

After McCain won all three contests in the Potomac Primary on Tuesday, his campaign manager, Rick Davis, released a memo arguing that it was "mathematically impossible" for Huckabee to secure the nomination.

"He would need to win 123 percent of remaining delegates," Davis wrote in the memo.

But Huckabee remains undaunted.

"When he got into this race a year ago he said he was going to run for president and that's what he's doing," said Huckabee campaign manager Chip Salzman. "He's not a quitter."

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said he supports Huckabee's decision to stay in the race.

"If you simply stop the primary right now and say John McCain is the nominee, and you have all of these voters who are passionate about the issues that Mike Huckabee addresses, it takes them off the table, and I think in the end it makes it harder for the party to unify in November and support the Republican candidate," said Perkins.

Asked if Huckabee's decision to remain in the race will push McCain further towards conservative positions, Perkins responded, "absolutely."

"He's a complex political animal," Rice University professor Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power, said of Huckabee. "I think he has loyalties to the Republican establishment as well as his evangelical constituents."

Lindsay believes that Huckabee is interested in "establishing himself as the next champion of the evangelical cause in a post-George W. Bush era."

"The results in Virginia were a message to Republican establishment that they have to extend an olive branch to this important part of their constituency," he added.

But Huckabee isn't necessarily trying to position himself as a traditional Christian leader, said Christianity Today's Ted Olsen.

"I doubt that he has designs on becoming the next Jim Dobson or Gary Bauer," said Olson. "I don't think you're going to see Mike Huckabee ministries coming out of this."

There has been talk of Huckabee as a potential vice presidential candidate for McCain, one who could deliver evangelical votes for the Republican ticket. But Buchanan argues that Huckabee has "reduced his chances of becoming the vice president dramatically" by staying in the race about two weeks longer than McCain would have liked.

And there's another factor that argues against Huckabee as a vice presidential pick: McCain doesn't do as badly with evangelical voters as one might think. On Super Tuesday, as Olsen points out, McCain picked up 29 percent of the evangelical vote, only five percentage points less than Huckabee. (Romney took 31 percent.)

"The question is are [evangelicals] really going to jump ship if you give them someone like McCain, who has a good record on abortion, who has a good record on a lot of issues that they care about," said Olsen. "It's not like McCain can't attract any evangelicals."

Even if he isn't tapped to be vice president, Huckabee could potentially fill a prominent role as an emissary to the evangelical community in a McCain administration. He does have some competition in that department, however, most notably from conservative Sen. Sam Brownback, who has been campaigning with McCain. And the longer he stays in the race, the more he risks alienating the frontrunner.

Nonetheless, Huckabee has run a shoestring campaign, and it seems feasible that he could keep it running at least until March 4th, when voters in four states, including Texas, go to the polls. Another few weeks of media coverage certainly won't hurt his national profile, and his extended run now could position him for another run at the nomination in 2012 or 2016.

And as Huckabee's paid speech to the Young Caymanian Leadership Awards in the Cayman Islands this weekend reminds us, all the exposure also isn't going to hurt his speaking fees.

"Every time he speaks he reminds people of his charisma and his charm and eloquence," said CBS News political consultant Nicolle Wallace.

But Wallace warns that Huckabee runs a risk in remaining in the race much longer.

"If he drags this out and stays in the race another two, three, four, five weeks, I think a lot of people in the party and hopefully in the press will really question his motives," she said.
By Brian Montopoli
By Brian Montopoli

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