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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne

The Republican race for president took another turn last night. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary. John McCain came in second. And third was the man we're going to talk to next - Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. He joins us on the line from Columbia, South Carolina.

Good morning.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): Good morning. It's a pleasure to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Pleasure to have you.

Governor, you placed third in Michigan with 16 percent of the vote. The thing that fueled your win in Iowa were the social conservatives there. Why did you lose many of those social conservatives to Governor Romney in Michigan?

Mr. HUCKABEE: Well, people know Governor Romney. I mean, his dad was the governor. He grew up there. He outspent me fifty to one there. I think, frankly, to receive the vote that I did - ahead of Rudy of Giuliani, Fred Thompson and others - is pretty significant.

MONTAGNE: Well, clearly, your base is the evangelical vote. But so far, you haven't been winning the others who made up the Reagan Republican coalition. That would be fiscal conservatives and national security conservatives.

Mr. HUCKABEE: Well, I think that there is sort of a misunderstanding. And people think that the only voters I have are Evangelicals. Evangelicals are also fiscal conservatives and they're interested in national security. And I am winning a lot of the rank and file people. In fact, I'm getting the very people that made up the Reagan coalition - union members and people who are middle class and small business owners. That's exactly many of the people who are supporting me. I think when we get through South Carolina and win here Saturday, people are going to see that there's a much broader support than maybe they had been thinking.

MONTAGNE: We're going to go on to South Carolina. Let's take the issues that will crop up there. The economy is what a lot of people are talking about. What's your view on what the government can do to avoid what appears to be a recession heading our way?

Mr. HUCKABEE: Well, the most important thing is to take the Hippocratic Oath and first do no harm. Don't raise taxes. Don't create more regulation and make it even tougher for businesses who are barely getting around their margins; make it tougher for them to survive. If anything, we need a tax stimulus package to lower taxes, cut some of the regulatory red tape, give businesses a chance to get some breathing room so that they can invest, put capital back into the marketplace. That's critical. And don't take money of the consumers' pocket with high tax rates or with tax increase right now.

MONTAGNE: Governor Huckabee, as we just said, the next important primary for Republicans is the Saturday in South Carolina. People there have been reporting getting automated phone calls from an interest group supporting you - a group called Common Sense Issues. It's what's known as push polling. It's where a pollster asks voters leading questions that include negative or misleading information about other candidates. Your campaign may not actually be doing that. Another group is doing it. But will you demand that this group or any group doing push polling on your behalf stop?

Mr. HUCKABEE: We have done that. And we've done it every state where we participated. We don't know who these people are. I personally wish all of this were outlawed. I think that every candidate ought to speak for himself and that everything that involves the candidate's name or another candidate's name should be authorized and approved by that candidate. Otherwise, it shouldn't be spoken.

MONTAGNE: Can't you get an interest group, that is supposedly doing something on your campaign's behalf, Can't you get them to stop?

Mr. HUCKABEE: No. How can you? The law prohibits us having any conversation with them. I can publicly call for it. But if I have a conversation with them -even to ask them to quit - it's called coordinating, and it's against the law. So I don't want to go to jail because somebody else is doing something that I don't like. There's also special interest groups that are coming down here to attack me today. Now, you know, some of that donors to those groups are major donors to Mitt Romney and others. You know, I haven't heard Mitt Romney call out for these people to stop.

The point is that candidates can't force these special interest 527 groups to stop. I wish we could, because frankly, they're not doing me a favor by carrying out things and tactics that I don't personally approve of.

MONTAGNE: Well, they might not be doing you a favor but they can help a campaign.

Mr. HUCKABEE: And they can hurt. They can also hurt. And I think, sometimes, to me, of all the things that are done, push polling is the most offensive to me because it's - I think it just ingenuous people think they're being a part of a poll, and they're actually being sold something. And that's one of the reasons I detest that method, probably, as maybe above all others.

MONTAGNE: Just a last question. You just told us you're going to win in South Carolina. Do you have to win in South Carolina? And if you don't win - come in first - what do you do?

Mr. HUCKABEE: We don't have to win. We just think we will. And we know that if we do, it really puts us in a very, very strong position going into Florida and on Super Tuesday. So it's important for us. If we don't win, then I guess we, you know, keep going. We just work a little harder when we get to Florida. But we think we will win here. And we're working hard to win.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. HUCKABEE: It's a pleasure. Thanks.

MONTAGNE: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is a Republican candidate for president. He joined us from Columbia, South Carolina.

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