Huckabee: GOP Can 'Come Together' in Fall

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's conservative supporters are crucial to the general-election hopes of the GOP's presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain. Huckabee says he hopes Republicans can "come together" to elect McCain.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Mike Huckabee's bid for the White House had tremendous appeal for conservative voters. He was endorsed by Evangelicals like Focus on the Family's James Dobson and Beverly LaHaye, who founded Concerned Women of America.

Mike Huckabee has now ended his campaign, but his supporters remain a problem for Senator John McCain. They're critical to the party's base and McCain hasn't yet won them over.

To talk about this and more, we reached Mike Huckabee in Little Rock, Arkansas yesterday, where he once served as the state's governor.

Good morning, Governor.

Former Governor MIKE HUCKABEE (Republican, Arkansas): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, when you announced you were leaving the race here's a statement you made in Texas.

(Soundbite of speech)

Governor HUCKABEE: It's now important that we turn our attention not to what could have been or what we wanted to have been, but what now must be. And that is a united party, but a party that indeed comes together on those principles that have brought many of us, not just to this race, but to politics in general.

MONTAGNE: And that's, of course, you speaking Governor Huckabee in Texas. How are you going to help that to happen?

Governor HUCKABEE: Well, I hope to be campaigning for Senator McCain, as well as for candidates for the House and Senate throughout the course of this election cycle. And I think that there's a lot to be done, in terms of sort of reviving the Republican spirit in this country, as well as reminding people that when Republicans stick to their own message and their platform we actually can win elections. But we can't do it when we abandon our basic principles.

MONTAGNE: Although, one of the issues for Senator McCain has been with the conservative base. Some exit polls information from this week's Republican primary in Mississippi found that one in five people who voted for Senator McCain said they were still dissatisfied with him as a nominee. How are you going to get your supporters to rally around Senator McCain?

Governor HUCKABEE: Well, I think the main thing that'll happen is people leave the contested primary situation, which clearly brings out differences. But when it gets down to any of the Republicans versus any of the Democrats, then the differences start. And that's when Republicans will come together and I believe give him a victory in November.

MONTAGNE: Just specifically, you're with a group of your supporters. What are you saying to them?

Governor HUCKABEE: Well, I'm telling them that, you know, while we all had the hope that I would be the one who would be nominated. At the same time, we're still on the same team, and Senator McCain has acquired the number of delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. Now it's our responsibility to support him and to realize that he will make a far better president than would Senator Obama or Senator Clinton.

There's a dramatic difference between those who would believe that we need to take more money out of workers' paychecks and those of us who think we ought to take less, whether or not we need more government interfering in our lives or if we need less government intervention. I think those are two fundamental things that will truly make the big difference in this race this year.

MONTAGNE: James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, spoke in Nashville this week about the future of the Evangelical movement. And the question he asked was, "who in the next generation will be willing to take the heat," I'm quoting, "when it's so much safer and more comfortable to avoid controversial subjects." How do you see it, the Evangelical movement. I mean, do you see it going into decline politically?

Governor HUCKABEE: I don't see it going into decline. I see it going into a maturing process. I think the issues are going to broaden and force Evangelicals to expand their horizons of concerns to poverty, disease, issues of education and homelessness.

These are issues that I think are going to become increasingly important along with the environment as part of an overall focus that you're going to see from - I would use a broader term - values voters - that would include not only Evangelicals but also Catholics and conservative Jewish voters as well.

MONTAGNE: Now, Governor, looking back at your campaign just momentarily, it was a campaign run on a shoestring.

Governor HUCKABEE: Sometimes we didn't even have the shoestring.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Well, sometimes you had to contend - or rather often you had to contend with questions along the lines of how are you going to keep going. You are now not in the race. What do you plan to do with the high profile that you have created in this campaign?

Governor HUCKABEE: Well, Renee, that remains to be seen. I'm not sure what all the future holds. Again, I know I'll be campaigning for other people. And right now I'm trying to take a few days to decompress and sort through the piles of stuff that have accumulated since this process began for me over 14 months ago. Then we'll start deciding in the next couple of weeks what's next.

MONTAGNE: Well, how about an offer from John McCain to be his running mate? Would you welcome something like that?

Governor HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think anybody ever turns that down. I've always said that's a job nobody wants but nobody ever says no to.

MONTAGNE: Is there any indication that an offer might be made to you? Have your heard from the Senator's campaign?

Governor HUCKABEE: No, I haven't…

MONTAGNE: From the Senator himself?

Governor HUCKABEE: …and that's why I'm not contemplating it or holding off other plans anticipating it.

MONTAGNE: But you wouldn't be the first person to say no?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Governor HUCKABEE: Well, it's pretty rare that a person declines.

MONTAGNE: Governor, thank you very much for talking with us.

Governor HUCKABEE: Thank you, Renee. Good to talk to you.

MONTAGNE: Former Arkansas Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

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