Huckabee questions McCain’s ability to ‘energize’ base

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, showing no signs of giving up in his quest for the GOP nomination, on Tuesday questioned presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) ability to turn out conservatives in a general election.

Huckabee, who has repeatedly bested McCain in conservative, Southern states, said he is the candidate winning the “states that are essential to being elected as a Republican.”

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“Republicans are not going to be elected because they carried Delaware, Connecticut, New York and California,” Huckabee said, referring to some of the states McCain has won. He added that the question is whether the Arizonan will be “able to energize the base of the party in a way that will get the foot soldiers out.”

In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, Huckabee encouraged reporters to “look a little deeper than just the number board.”

Despite the long mathematical odds Huckabee faces as he remains in the race against McCain, the former governor indicated Tuesday morning that he has no plans to withdraw anytime soon. Huckabee said he plans to start campaigning in Wisconsin, which holds its primary Feb. 19, on Wednesday.

Campaign manager Chip Saltsman said after the breakfast that Huckabee would campaign there for much of the week and then make a decision about how much more time to spend in the state.

Wisconsin, which holds an open primary, would seem to be an obvious place for McCain to continue his path to the nomination on the backs of independent voters.

But Huckabee said the state has a strong “pro-life” core of Republican voters. The former governor said his support of a constitutional amendment banning abortion – coupled with McCain’s opposition to such an amendment – and his opposition to embryonic stem cell research will help him with conservative Republican voters there.

Huckabee also said his campaign planned to put a lot of effort into Texas, which is scheduled to hold its primary on March 4.

“Texas is very, very important to us,” Huckabee said, adding that he plans “to spend a great deal of time there between now and March 4.”

Despite the occasional attempt to distinguish himself from McCain on conservative issues, Huckabee continued to show an unwillingness to attack the senator.

That said, the former governor did question the long line of conservatives who have endorsed McCain in recent days, saying they are “people that had nothing nice to say about him, and now they’re suddenly standing on stage with their arm around him.”

Huckabee said he would never be the “establishment” candidate, but his supporters are not “me-too people.”

The former governor also sized up the current state of play in the Democratic contest, saying Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who is riding a wave of momentum, should have been taken more seriously from the beginning.

“People underestimated Barack Obama and his capacity to inspire,” Huckabee said. “Obama may present a difficult challenge [for Republicans] because he’s new and different,” he added.

“His weakness is he [has] never been tested.”

Huckabee said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has run into trouble in recent contests because she can be too wonkish, and not as inspirational, as a candidate.

“She does not have the personality of her husband. Very few people do,” Huckabee said.

Despite the nearly cemented conventional wisdom that Huckabee cannot win the GOP nomination, he declined to talk about what he might do if he fails in his quest.

The former governor did rule out a third party bid and a Senate run. There has been a great deal of speculation that Huckabee might challenge Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and the filing deadline to do so is inching closer.

“There’s a greater chance that I would dye my hair green, cover my body with tattoos and go on a rock tour with Amy Winehouse,” Huckabee joked.

The only way Huckabee would discuss the future, other than talking about his ongoing campaign, was to say that he would “absolutely” push for the anti-abortion rights amendment to be included in the GOP platform at this summer’s convention.