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BUILDING A CONSERVATIVE COALITION

Huckabee Not Ruling Out No. 2 Spot on Ballot

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Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) withdrew his candidacy from Irving, Tex. after Tuesday's primary election results indicated McCain would reach the needed delegate ount to win the Republican nomination. Video by AP

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By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 6, 2008

Advisers to Mike Huckabee spent yesterday starting to build a conservative coalition that could propel a future run for the White House, hoping to capitalize on the popularity he gained during his unlikely presidential bid.

Using as a model Ronald Reagan's time between his failed run in 1976 and his success in 1980, the former Arkansas governor plans to help Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Republican congressional candidates win over conservative Christians in the fall, while looking for a national radio show or other forum that he can use to expand his influence within the party.

And though Huckabee has said that he doubts McCain would offer him the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket, he has not denied interest in the job. The head of his campaign's faith-and-values coalition, conservative radio talk show host Janet Folger, said she is broadcasting the phone number of McCain's campaign office so callers can demand that Huckabee be placed on the ticket. Folger said McCain "needs" to pick Huckabee to ensure that conservative Christians will turn out in November.

Huckabee spent yesterday thanking his supporters, as well as taking a congratulatory call for his performance from President Bush, who officially endorsed McCain yesterday.

"We want to stay in touch and start now building a platform to continue addressing issues that brought us together in the first place," Huckabee said in an e-mail to supporters yesterday. "We will keep our website up and as we transition, will want to create a way to keep in touch and continue the battle for our families, our freedom, and our future."

Sarah Huckabee, the former governor's daughter and national field director, said she could envision her father taking another run at the White House. "He's a young guy. We learned a lot over the last few years," she said. "A lot depends on what happens in 2008, but if there's an opportunity and he felt it was a good time to do it, I think he would."

Huckabee's concession speech on Tuesday, when he thanked supporters in a ballroom in Irving, Tex., was one of the few traditional rites of one of the most unorthodox presidential campaigns in recent memory.

The charismatic, guitar-playing candidate joked on television about eating a squirrel that he cooked in a popcorn popper during his college years, played air hockey on "The Colbert Report," and, a few days before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, invited reporters to watch him get his hair cut. Days before the Iowa vote, he held a news conference to say that he would not run a negative ad about rival Mitt Romney, while showing the ad to an incredulous press corps. On the night before the caucuses, he flew to Los Angeles for a taping of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

He also brought a new figure to the national political stage: actor Chuck Norris. A Christian activist better known for his tough-guy roles, Norris endorsed Huckabee in the fall and then agreed to appear in a clever ad in which the candidate made jokes about Norris's strength, while Norris extolled Huckabee for being an "authentic conservative."

But Huckabee was not all gimmickry. While his better-known rivals struggled to connect with voters in Iowa, he quietly courted home-schooling activists and other social conservatives.

He won Iowa by turning out an unprecedented number of evangelicals, targeting them with a television commercial that dubbed him a "Christian leader" and defending a Christmas commercial that his detractors said appeared to depict a flying cross behind him.

While those tactics helped in Iowa, they also limited Huckabee elsewhere, as he was unable to break out of the box of being the "evangelical candidate." And though his Iowa win helped, Huckabee was never able to raise the money needed to make a national run.


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