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Huckabee Rallies for a Boost from Southern Voters


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.


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.


HUCKABEE: Let's get it done.


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.


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.