Huckabee Quits Presidential Race

Conservative Republican longshot posed formidable challenge.


March 4, 2008— -- Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has conceded the Republican nomination to rival Senator John McCain, R-Ariz.

But there is no doubt the longshot-turned-contender left his mark on the GOP race.

Calling his White House bid the "journey of a lifetime", Huckabee spoke Tuesday night from Irving, TX commending McCain on an "honorable campaign" and emphasizing his commitment to the Republican party in the fight to the November election.

"We stayed in until the race was over. We kept the faith, that for me has been the most important goal of all," Huckabee said, standing with his wife on stage at the Four Seasons Hotel. " I'd rather lose the election than lose the principles that got me into politics in the first place."

McCain visits President Bush at the White House Wednesday.

Huckabee's brand of social conservatism, combined with his strong core support among evangelicals, and a frugal campaign budget, left party rivals scrambling to defend their conservative credentials.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were all, at least in part, victims of Huckabee's surprise success.

Ultimately, the former Arkansas governor won by losing, attracting significant blocs of the GOP base in state races despite McCain's significant delegate lead, the latter due in part to the party's largely winner-take-all delegate distribution.

Huckabee's folksy appeal earned him clout within the party as a force to be reckoned with. Still, he has said he is not interested in a third-party run for the White House and, presidential aspirations aside, that he would rather go on a "rock tour with Amy Winehouse" than enter the Arkansas Senate race.

Huckabee has also downplayed his place in the '08 veepstakes, telling a reporter this February "I don't think Sen. McCain would select me anyway...I think that it's a little almost off the chart to think that he would end up selecting me."

Huckabee's meteoric rise from political obscurity to GOP threat began with his second-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll — an unofficial but closely watched exercise within the Republican campaign cycle — back in August 2007, which signalled his potential to stage a GOP upset.

The momentum that followed Huckabee out of the straw poll finish — complete with cable news bookings, network morning show interviews, and print media outlets clamoring to ask him "how" — bumped Huckabee from second-tier to rising star on the nation's political radar.

Through the almost five full months from the Iowa Straw Poll until any votes were cast in the state's January caucuses, Huckabee continued his presidential campaign, run on a shoestring budget. He spent time at home in Little Rock and flew to first-in-the-nation contest states for long weekends when the crowds were more substantial.

But in November, a CBS News/New York Times poll changed everything.

Showing Huckabee within striking distance of then-Iowa front-runner Mitt Romney, Huckabee's campaign quickened its pace, tailed by the national media, which had previously covered him from afar.

By mid-December, Huckabee had become the bona fide front-runner in Iowa, overtaking Romney in the state's pre-caucus polling.

Come January, Huckabee won the Iowa caucus with 34 percent of the vote, spending a fraction of what second-place Romney used to saturate the state's market.

Then-underdog McCain tied former Sen. Fred Thompson for third in Iowa, with each candidate garnering 13 percent of the vote.

Riding the Iowa win, Huckabee headed to New Hampshire, where he was down in the polls. For the five days leading up to the Republican primary, Huckabee shook every hand he could, taking advantage of just about any opportunity for free media in the Granite State.

He surprised many with a third place finish in New Hampshire, at 26 percent, behind McCain's 37 percent and Romney's 32 percent, and beating Giuliani by a decent margin.

The southern states that followed were Huckabee's strong suit: he spoke the language of the electorate, and drew on the shared, common experiences that resonated with voters.

Huckabee was poised for a strong, possibly winning finish in South Carolina, when his campaign made a questionable decision to make a series of stops in Michigan — rival Romney's home state.

As expected, Huckabee placed third in Michigan and went back to South Carolina to finish what he had started.

Primary day in South Carolina proved interesting from both a political and meteorological standpoint.

Snowy weather in Huckabee-friendly districts, and tough competition from Thompson, led to a disappointing South Carolina loss, as Huckabee finished with 30 percent, trailing McCain's 33 percent.

The campaign then turned farther south, to Florida.

The Sunshine State was never Huckabee's to win, and while his supporters there remained fervent, the South Carolina loss had the chattering classes convinced that Huckabee was on the ropes — a claim he would deny over and over in the weeks that followed.

Huckabee's fourth-place Florida finish — behind McCain, Romney and Giuliani — and lack of subsequent momentum heading into Super Tuesday were thought to be the final nail in the campaign's coffin. But Huckabee would not go so quietly into the night.

Huckabee would visit seven southern states in seven days, his strategy now to carry the South and prove his viability in Republican strongholds, who turned voices to votes against McCain's brand of conservatism, in favor of Huckabee's.

Huckabee surprised many, winning Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia and his home state of Arkansas.

Following Romney's withdrawal from the race on Feb. 7, the southern string would soon turn the race into a two-man battle, with McCain leading by a substantial margin.

Surprising wins in Kansas and Louisiana kept Huckabee afloat for a while, but could not sustain his campaign once McCain gained an insurmountable delegate lead.

Huckabee made his last stand in Texas.

Recalling the famous battle of the Alamo in which Texas rebels staged a fierce fight against Mexico for independence, the insurgent former governor often quoted a letter by Texas commander William Barrett Travis: "The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken -- I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls."

Huckabee spent a few arduous days flying all over the state but in the end it would not prove enough to overcome the McCain's momentum. Huckabee's crowds fluctuated significantly from a rally at Texas A&M with about 900 in the room and another 1500 watching from outside to a morning rally at Southern Methodist University in Dallas that drew less than 200.

ABC News' Martha Raddatz contributed to this report.

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