Huckabee Rallies for a Boost from Southern Voters

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The winner of the Iowa caucuses just one month ago, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is now the clear underdog in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He has spent much of the past week campaigning across the South, where he hopes the Evangelical base can give him a lift.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

A quarter of the delegates at stake tomorrow on Super Tuesday are the south. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee hasn't won a Republican contest since Iowa, and he's been focusing on those southern states.

NPR's Robert Smith reports from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

ROBERT SMITH: A long-shot presidential candidate goes to five emotional stages on the eve of an election. In Chattanooga, Mike Huckabee began the day with denial, at least of the national polls that show him running behind.

MIKE HUCKABEE: I think people ought to make up their own minds. If they think I represent their views, then vote for me and I'll be the winner.

SMITH: It was followed by anger.

HUCKABEE: I know Mr. Romney's been trying to do a little voter suppression by telling people that a vote for me is really a vote for John McCain. Let me tell you something. A vote for me is exactly what it is. It is a vote for me. And here's why I want you to help us.

SMITH: There is the third stage of being a long-shot candidate - bargaining with your supporters to get the vote.

HUCKABEE: Get on the phone. Go knock on their doors and find out. Are they going to vote for Mike Huckabee? If they say yes, you get them to the polls. If they say no, I'm not going to vote for him, don't let them go vote tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: But the underdog has to be realistic. So after pumping up the crowd at the Chattanooga convention Center, Huckabee moved on to the fourth stage - depression of expectations. He told reporters that there isn't a set number of delegates that he needs to win tomorrow.

HUCKABEE: The main thing we have to do is to keep somebody from getting 1191 tomorrow. If we do that, you know, there's still a game going on.

SMITH: The fifth emotional stage is acceptance, and Huckabee's already comfortable to where he stands on the eve of Super Tuesday.

HUCKABEE: I don't know what it's like to be anything but the underdog. Maybe once in my life I'd like to start from the top, just to see how it feels. But I've never been there.

SMITH: Now, these stages aren't necessarily negative. Huckabee used that underdog charm to win the Iowa caucuses. But since then, the campaign hasn't been able to replicate it. Huckabee's hoping a strong core of evangelical voters in the south may help revive the campaign. And just in case, he's also courting the good-old-boy vote in places like Macon, Georgia.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE: Let's get it done.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

SMITH: In trying to broaden his working class appeal by promising to shutdown the IRF.

HUCKABEE: This is what you can do with your 1040.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

SMITH: The folks that show up at Huckabee events are so dedicated to the man that many of them have no second choice candidate. But others are coming to that stage of acceptance.

Andrew Hoffman(ph) from Chattanooga hopes that voting for Huckabee will send the message even if he doesn't win.

ANDREW HOFFMAN: We wanted to make sure that the Republican nominee has heard the voices of the Wal-Mart Republicans as Mike Huckabee said today. If John McCain can pay attention to that voice and give it a place in his campaign, that will be the second best possible outcome of the Mike Huckabee campaign.

SMITH: The best possible outcome? Well, that would be the rare sixth emotional stage of being an underdog - victory.

Robert Smith, NPR News, Chattanooga.

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Candidates Make Last Appeals to Voters

McCain

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) greets supporters during a campaign appearance at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. on Jan. 3. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images
Clinton

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks during a roundtable discussion at Yale Child Study Center Feb. 4 in New Haven, Conn. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Romney

Supporters wait for the arrival of former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney at the Pancake Pantry Feb. 4 in Nashville, Tenn. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Obama

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) greets supporters during a rally at the IZOD Center on Feb. 4 in East Rutherford, N.J. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. and GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee takes questions during the MTV/MySpace presidential forum on Feb. 2 in New York City. Scott Gries/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Gries/Getty Images

Voters in 24 states were set to shake up the presidential primary map in both parties on "Super Tuesday," with Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a close fight and Republican John McCain hoping for a decisive victory over rival Mitt Romney.

More than half of the total Democratic delegates and about 40 percent of the GOP delegates are up for grabs.

Most opinion polls showed a tight Democratic race in many states. Among Republicans, Sen. McCain had solid leads in most of the big battleground states.

Competition is particularly fierce in delegate-rich states such as California, Illinois and New York. Eight of the 21 Republican contests are winner-takes-all affairs — in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Arizona, Utah and Montana.

McCain Turns to the Party's Base

On the Republican side, 71-year-old Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has benefited from a changing political climate. The decline of violence in Iraq has persuaded some voters that McCain was right to support the troop surge, while others just see it as a less-pressing issue.

But McCain still has to win over conservative Republicans, who are alarmed by the same nonconformist streak that delights independents. McCain insists he can keep all the factions of the party together in the same big tent.

"We may have a disagreement on an issue or two. That's healthy. Wouldn't we be pretty boring if we agreed on everything?" he told Illinois Republicans at a recent dinner.

McCain has concentrated his campaigning in the Northeast, making stops in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

Clinton Re-Emphasizing Softer Side

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's recent campaign strategy has been to show voters more of her personality and try to reintroduce herself to the American public as a gentler figure — not necessarily someone who you would want to have beers with, but certainly someone who voters trust.

At a Super Bowl party in Minneapolis on Sunday, she talked about her efforts to define herself over the last month.

"I've been passionate about children's issues and women's issues and issues of justice, legal and economic, my entire life. And I think as the campaign went on, it became clear that I needed to demonstrate who I am as a total package. You know what I believe in, what I care about, why I do what I do, and I worked on that all year," she said.

After the Superbowl party in Minnesota, she returned to the Northeast for campaign stops in New Haven, Conn. at her alma mater, Yale, and in New York. Her husband and former President, Bill Clinton, campaigned on her behalf throughout California in Orange County, Sacramento, Stockton and San Francisco.

Romney Portrays Himself as Best Conservative Option

GOP rival and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is hoping to win the votes of conservative Southerners who may have supported former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson or former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before they dropped out.

At a Nashville diner on Monday, he talked about his stance on immigration.

"Do you want a nominee who helped write McCain-Kennedy that gave amnesty to illegal aliens? No! Do you want a nominee instead who represents conservative principals and keep us inside the house that Ronald Reagan built?" he said.

But Nashville just one of many stops he made leading up to Super Tuesday, jetting between Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, California and West Virginia.

Obama Looks Ahead to the November Election

On the Democratic side, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in Connecticut. Recently, he has adopted a two-pronged strategy: first, to highlight the policy differences between him and rival Sen. Clinton on issues such as Iraq. Secondly, Obama talks about which candidate would do better against Republican front-runner McCain.

"I can offer a clear and clean break from the failed policies of George W. Bush. I won't have to explain my votes in the past," Obama said at a rally in Delaware — referring to Clinton's original support of the Iraq war.

Huckabee Stumps Throughout the South

One-quarter of the delegates at stake on Super Tuesday are in the South. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been wooing the region's large number of evangelical voters, who helped him win the Iowa caucuses — his first and only win during the early voting contests.

But Huckabee has become more realistic as McCain and Romney's primary wins have mounted. After pumping up the crowd at the Chattanooga Convention Center, Huckabee told reporters that there are not a set number of delegates that he needs to win on Tuesday. The important part to focus on, he said, is that he is still in the game.

From NPR staff reports

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