MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
There were four candidates on stage at last night's Republican presidential debate, but it's looking more and more like a two-man contest between frontrunner John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee got a big bump in support following his surprise win in Iowa back in December. Still, his campaign is short on cash and he had trouble getting in a word in, edge-wise, last night. We caught up with Governor Huckabee earlier today by cell phone. He was on the road in San Francisco. And he says the focus on McCain and Romney isn't slowing him down one bit.
Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Arkansas Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): 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. I have almost as many delegates as either one of them. This is a delegate race. It takes just under 1200 delegates to get the nomination. And nobody has more than 90. I think it's absurd for the media to say, oh, this is a two-man race. And frankly, I think it's the American people getting cheated if that's their spin on this.
And that's why last night, I tried to step in and say, and if you're looking for a true conservative in this race, he's down here in the end of the table. And you might throw him a few pitches, because I'm ready to get down.
NORRIS: But you are going up against some significant challenges. Romney has a deep war chest. It's much easier for him to mount a national campaign to pay for all the advertising that he's going to need. With each day…
Mr. HUCKABEE: Well, you know, Michele, he can spend all the money in the world, 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. And, you know, he has had 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. And if people look at the money that we've had and how well we've done with it, I think that's the story that really gives us some credibility to say we're in this thing for the long haul.
NORRIS: As you look towards February 5th, just a few days now, where do you expect you can actually win on Tuesday?
Mr. HUCKABEE: The key states for us are clearly the ones in the south and Midwest like Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia. All of these states are in play along with Montana, West Virginia and some others where we feel like we've got a real shot to win and pick up significant delegates. These are big states for us. We have a big day next Tuesday, and actually be in a lead position with delegate count.
NORRIS: You know, when — you did very well in Iowa and, in part, because you were all over the place. You blanketed the state like a strong winter snow. It's harder to do that when you're running in more than 20 states. How much money do you have in the bank and how are you able to actually pay for ads for all of those people who are just now tuning in this race?
Mr. HUCKABEE: Well, one of the things we've done is bought national ads on many of the major news networks. So we're actually running in the black. We've never gone into debt. People always want to makes this, how much money have you raised. But the question is, look what we've done with our limited resources. We've had a frugal operation in large part because we have an amazing number of volunteers that we couldn't have afforded. More than look at how much we've raised, look at how much Mitt Romney has spent. He's barely ahead of us in delegate count. I think that's an amazing story.
What does that say about his message and mine? He's having to do a heck of a lot more marketing to sell his product than we are.
NORRIS: It seems that you have, if I may say so, a certain amount of animus toward Mitt Romney.
Mr. HUCKABEE: It's not personal, but I find it very difficult. And I know John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and others have when we hear him speak with such boldness about him being a conservative. And we all know. We've seen the videos of him saying, look, I'm not part of that Reagan/Bush thing, when he was talking about how he was an independent voting for Paul Tsongas. We've all seen the video clips of him saying that he would do more for the gay and lesbian agenda than Ted Kennedy.
For him to come along now and to try to suddenly step in front of many of us who have been conservatives when he obviously was not one, it's just a little difficult to take. And when you add that to stories like, I'm a lifelong hunter, but he never had a hunting license. For many of us, we find it a little bit hard to believe that a person has just hit political puberty at age 60.
NORRIS: Do you feel any pressure at all to get out of the race, if I may ask that?
Mr. HUCKABEE: Not for me. I mean, I've spent my life always having people doubt that I could get somewhere and do something. And my whole life has been one of watching people who kind of looked down their collective noses and thought there's no way this boy is going to make it. And so whether it's my political life or all the way back to childhood, that's part of the deal. But I can tell you this, I'm not going to quit. Somebody's going to have to beat me to get me out of the game. And that's, you know, that's my nature. I'm just not one that walks off the field, because the only way you know you're going to lose is if you quit.
NORRIS: Governor Huckabee, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. HUCKABEE: Glad to do it.
NORRIS: That was Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
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