Huckabee on the Offensive Ahead of Super Tuesday

Sen. John McCain may be the current Republican front-runner in the presidential race, but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee insists that the contest is far from over.

"It's only a two-person race if the national media tries to pick the president for the people. It's absurd to let this become a play-yard shouting match between John McCain and Mitt Romney," Huckabee tells Michele Norris.

But the former Baptist minister has sharp criticism of his own of Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

"[Romney] can spend all the money in the world, [but] he can't change the fact that he's got a very, very tough message to sell because he's had so many different products out of the same box. He has a lot of money, and he's spent a lot of money. But for the amount of money that he's spent, he hasn't done that well.

"If people look at the money we've had, and how well we've done with it, I think that's the story that gives us some credibility to say we're in this thing for the long haul," Huckabee says, noting that his campaign has been frugal, relying on volunteers and limited resources, and has never gone into debt.

In addition, Huckabee says that he finds it difficult when he hears Romney "speak with such boldness about … being a conservative."

He cites video of Romney distancing himself from Reagan and Bush and also of him saying he would do more for the gay and lesbian agenda than Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

"For him to come along now and try to suddenly step in front of many of us who have been conservatives, when he obviously was not one, is just a little difficult to take.

"For many of us, we find [it] hard to believe that a person has just hit political puberty at age 60," he says.

Huckabee says he is now focused on the races at stake on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5. He says his campaign has a "real shot to win and pick up significant delegates" in key states in the South and Midwest: Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Montana and West Virginia.

Feb. 5 Voters Head to Polls with Diverse Demands

An election worker counts absentee ballots

Absentee balloting in California has become extremely popular in the past few election cycles, with an estimated 3.7 million California voters casting absentee ballots. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

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Supporters of Mike Huckabee at a fair tax rally

Supporters of Mike Huckabee at a fair-tax rally on Sunday. Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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A supporter holds a campaign sign for John McCain.

A supporter holds a campaign sign for John McCain on Tuesday. Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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A supporter of Barack Obama cheers during a rally in Arizona.

A Barack Obama supporter cheers during a rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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On Feb. 5, residents in 24 states from coast to coast will go to the polls in what amounts to a national primary. Below are snapshots of what's on voters' minds in several Super Tuesday states:

Alabama: Chance to Matter

Christian conservative college student Chad Haney says he's excited about the campaign frenzy. "There's hardly ever a presidential candidate here and especially a Republican, because it's usually written off as a Republican state," he said.

There are roughly 1.3 million Southern Baptists and other evangelicals, like Haney, in Alabama. On the Democratic side, about 40 percent of the electorate is African American.

Arizona: Immigration and the Economy

To the customers standing in line at a local taqueria, the most pressing issue is which type of taco to order. But to the man behind the counter, Francisco Pesqueira, the most pressing issue is the dwindling number of customers.

"The business is very slow right now. We're down, down, down about 50 percent," he said.

After the economy, the big issue in Arizona is immigration. Pesquiera sees the two issues linked: Many of his customers are immigrants or have immigrant family members. They are leaving the state, he says, because of the economy and because state laws are cracking down on illegal immigrants.

The state Democratic Party says 25 percent of its eligible voters are Hispanic. On the Republican side, the state is widely expected to go to Arizona Sen. John McCain. But former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been making headway among Republican activists, who see him as more in line with party positions than McCain.

California: 20-Somethings Hold Sway

California residents under 30 make up about 16 percent of likely voters. On the campus of UCLA, many potential voters approached by NPR said they are backing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Senior Curtis Watley says the students take his message of unity personally and believe he can unite Republicans and Democrats.

But Tiffany Nayman, a 35-year-old major in American literature, says she admires New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's experience. "She's actually the one who is going to make the changes happen. So I'm hoping that I can bring a little wisdom to the kids here," Nayman says.

Among Republicans, McCain leads Romney in the most recent California polls.

Colorado: Environment Big for Both Parties

The environment has played a prominent role in Colorado civic life lately. There is a controversial gas-drilling boom in the Rocky Mountains. The governor has made renewable energy a centerpiece of his year-old administration. Voter Matt Elder says the environment will factor into his decision on Tuesday.

"On a scale of one to 10 with environmental issues, I'd say it's about a six or seven. I know they say global warming isn't a theory now and it's something we need to pay attention to, and I do think the next president has to pay attention to it," he said.

Elder is a Democrat, but in this state, where outdoor recreation is big business, the environment is an issue across the political spectrum. Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams has some advice for his party's presidential candidates when they visit the state: "Republicans who present a positive agenda on the environment that is responsible— that protects the environment without killing the economy— those Republicans do well."

Georgia: Torn Between Obama's Historic Candidacy and Clinton's Legacy

In Atlanta, support for Democratic candidates is split between Obama and Clinton. African Americans made up 43 percent of voters in this Southern state in the last Democratic presidential primary. Many older civil rights leaders support Clinton; younger blacks, including Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, are going with Obama.

The Clinton name has strong history in this state. Georgia is the first primary that Bill Clinton won in his 1992 bid for the nomination — and that has translated into support for Hillary Clinton.

Among the Republican presidential hopefuls, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is the only one who has spent time in Georgia lately. Huckabee has reached out to evangelical voters across the country. In Georgia, they are solidly behind him.

Illinois: Strong Ties to Both Democratic Candidates

Many Illinois voters are thrilled about the chance to elect their own senator president.

Waiting for a commuter train at the Randolph Street Station, Kathy Markham of Chicago can hardly contain her excitement for Obama.

"What he's trying to bring to the table is just so refreshing. It's so energizing. It really is bringing such electricity back into politics," he said.

The Clinton campaign is not ceding Illinois to Obama; after all, Clinton was born and raised in Illinois, and she and her husband maintain close ties to much of the state's Democratic Party establishment.

With issues like national security and the economy in the fore, GOP political consultant Chris Robling expects Illinois to be a tight race between McCain and Romney. Much of the Republican establishment that had been backing Rudy Giuliani is now shifting to McCain.

Missouri: Republicans Waiting to be Wooed

In the heart of Kansas City, in a conservative suburb called Lee's Summit, Sean Mitkif cuts hair at a barbershop on Third Street.

Mitkif says the two most prominent issues customers are grappling with are religion and health care. "Even though these families are conservative, they're caught in a loop of wanting to side with the more nonconservative ideas about health care, to get health care. They're wresting with their morals vs. their budget," he said.

Over the last century, Missouri has been a bellwether state. Voters have correctly picked the winner in every general election, except in 1956, when they were swayed by Adlai Stevenson.

University of Missouri Kansas City political scientist Elizabeth Moore says this year, residents are still waiting to be wooed. "So far, it seems as if the candidates have all but ignored Missouri, outside of a few fundraising events," she said.

In the Republican primary, Huckabee is hoping to do well among socially conservative voters in rural areas. Romney and McCain both are potentially appealing to fiscal conservatives around St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City.

And in an election season that's lacked direction, it may be fitting that the state's most prominent Republican, Sen. Kit Bond, endorsed Rudy Giuliani, who's no longer in the race.

From NPR staff reports

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