USA Today’s On Politics Blog Reports: Mike Huckabee is one of two Southern conservatives in the Republican presidential race right now, and today he brushed off concerns about a likely candidate with a similar identity.
"It’ll sort out as to which one of us is the real or the Southern conservative," Huckabee, a pastor and former Arkansas governor, said of former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson.
"He’s going to occupy an extraordinary amount of stage space early on. He’ll start at the top when he comes in. The challenge will be for him to sustain that," Huckabee told reporters in a conference call. He said that "if you enter at the top, there’s only one direction you can really go."
His own goal, Huckabee said, is to continually move ahead: "We’re hoping to peak at the right time."
For Huckabee, mired in single digits and having raised only $540,000 in the first quarter, that’s the Aug. 11 Iowa straw poll. He said the straw poll would not necessarily make or break his bid, but he did call it a milestone.
"We’re going to play to do well," he said. If he doesn’t, he said he will re-assess his odds of success in the January caucuses that start the nomination process.
Another candidate in single digits, former governor Tommy Thompson, pretty much said today he would drop out if he does poorly in the straw poll. He told C-SPAN it is "very much a must-win" for his campaign.
Two leading GOP candidates, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are skipping the straw poll. But a third, Mitt Romney, is competing hard to win it.
Update at 4:25 p.m. ET: The other Southern conservative in the race is former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore.
Update at 4:32 p.m. ET: Rep. Ron Paul is from Texas, but he’s usually categorized as a libertarian and he has been against the Iraq war from the start.