Huckabee Wins Big in South, Challenges for Conservative Vote

His campaign thought dead and now resurrected, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee greeted his supporters ebulliently after winning contests in West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and his home state of Arkansas, with other possible victories to come.

"You know, over the past few days, people have been trying to say this is a two-man race," he said shortly after 10 p.m. "You know what? It is. And we're in it!"

Huckabee was tweaking the pundits and politicos who had written him off, suggesting that only Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were true contenders.

Huckabee suggested today on "Good Morning America" that he'd stay in the race until all delegates were counted, but acknowledged he had a lot of work to do to overtake McCain.


"We gotta win a lot of delegates," Huckabee said. "The only way you can be assured of losing [is] to leave the game."

Huckabee and Romney have been splitting the conservative vote, in a way, paving a path to the nomination for McCain, who enjoys stronger support among moderate and liberal Republicans.

With McCain and Huckabee having very good nights — and Romney showing disappointing third-place finishes in many states — Huckabee is now trying to flip the argument that he's the one who should drop out.

In fact, Huckabee was downright dismissive of Romney. "He lost, get over it, deal with it, life goes on," he said today.

Huckabee's message to supporters Tuesday night tweaked the institutional support and millions of dollars enjoyed by Romney, and he spoke with the biblical flourishes that the Baptist minister often adds to his speeches.

"Tonight, we are making sure America understands that sometimes, one small smooth stone is sometimes more effective than a whole lot of armor," Huckabee told supporters. "And we've also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world."

Asked about the biblical allusions by Gibson, Huckabee called it "a language that I speak pretty freely and clearly. … For me, it's not a second language, it's my mother tongue." He added that he used the scriptural touches to explain the euphoria he feels, as well as "why my followers have never quit."

Huckabee said going forward he looks forward to contests in Kansas, Virginia, and Texas.

"Today, people across this country are saying that, yes, we heard what the pundits said, but this is our vote, not theirs, this is our election, not theirs, this is our presidency, not theirs," Huckabee said.

Huckabee told ABC News that if it came down to a fight between him and McCain, "You're going to see the most civil and gentlemanly campaign we've seen in a long, long time."

"You know, we have genuine respect for each other and genuinely like each other," Huckabee said on "Good Morning America."

When asked about the possibility of a McCain-Huckabee ticket, the former Arkansas governor said, "What about a Huckabee-McCain ticket? That sounds better to me."

Drawing on Conservative Base

His campaign says he will draw differences with McCain on constitutional amendments against abortion and same-sex marriage, which he supports and McCain opposes, as well as on McCain's support for the immigration reform compromise that failed last year, and his votes against the Bush tax cuts.

Huckabee got an unexpected boost earlier in the day when he won the West Virginia Party Convention. His campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, called him to tell him the news.

"Are you sittin' down?" Saltsman asked in his Tennessee drawl. "I've got some news for you from West Virginia."

"What is it?" Huckabee asked.

"Our guys on the ground in West Virginia have been working really hard," Saltsman said, "and the news is you only won by a couple votes."

It took a second for Huckabee to process what Saltsman was saying.

"Wait — did you say I won by a couple votes?" Huckabee asked. "That is great news!"

The West Virginia news provides some well-needed wind at the back for Huckabee, who hasn't won a contest since the Iowa caucuses.

He, Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who has four delegates, all campaigned in West Virginia, Tuesday.

No winner emerged after the first round of voting at the West Virginia GOP convention, though Paul — who came in fourth — was eliminated.

Romney led with 464 votes, or 41 percent, followed by Huckabee, with 375 (33 percent), McCain with 176 (16 percent) and Paul with 118 (10 percent).

As voting continued to a second round and it was clear McCain wouldn't win, many McCain supporters jumped to back Huckabee.

With the support of those supporters who had gone in the first round, for Paul and McCain, Huckabee squeaked past Romney for a win in the second round of voting. Huckabee garnered 52 percent of the vote to Romney's 47 percent.

"Unfortunately, this is what Sen. McCain's inside Washington ways look like," said Romney-for-president campaign manager Beth Myers. "He cut a backroom deal with the tax-and-spend candidate he thought could best stop Gov. Romney's campaign of conservative change."

The Huckabee campaign denied there was any deal.

"I'm sorry, I thought the Romney campaign sent out something [on Monday], saying there's no whining in politics," said Saltsman. "He got beat — period. Once again, showing that Gov. Romney's millions of dollars can't buy the election."

Bob Fish, the CEO of the West Virginia Republican Presidential Convention, responded to Romney's accusations of a deal by telling ABC News, "Welcome to politics."

"To anyone who speaks of 'a deal' being made, as if that's critical, I guess I would say, 'Welcome to politics.' This is exactly what happens when you have an election of this type," Fish said.

ABC News' Teddy Davis, Rick Klein and Karen Travers contributed to this report.