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MSNBC - Transcript


Location: Greenville, SC

MR. GREGORY: Now, we're going to turn to Governor Mike Huckabee. He's spending the day before the primaries courting the youth vote in South Carolina. The governor just wrapped up an event at a college in Greenville, and he joins us live now.

Governor, you're very nice to take the time.

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, happy to do it, David. Thanks for having me on.

MR. GREGORY: You are in a tight race with John McCain down there; our polling looks at -- essentially, a dead heat. How do you see the race?

MR. HUCKABEE: We think the momentum is going our way. A lot of people in South Carolina are beginning to realize I was the first one talking about the economic issues months ago. All the other Republicans said the economy was fine, I said it's not doing that well for the middle class, it's not doing that well for the folks who aren't at the top of the economy proved that I was right. And I think a lot of people understand that if you've been a governor and you've had to steer the canoe through low water, you understand something of what it takes to create jobs, to improve the per capita income, to keep taxes lower, and to make sure that you create a business climate where people can go into business, stay in business and keep people employed.

MR. GREGORY: Well, to that point, if you were sitting in the Oval Office today and you came out, as President Bush did, to address the country, what would you be saying about the state of the economy and what you, President Huckabee, would do about it?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, I think the president's on the right track. First of all, get those tax cuts permanent. People need to know that their tax situation is not going to immeasurably change --

MR. GREGORY: That's not part of this -- sorry, Governor. That's not part of the stimulus plan. Making the tax cuts permanent is not part of --

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, it is part of his plan. It is very much a part of his long-term plan, the stimulus plan, and involves about $145 billion of specific, targeted things. And I think the president's on the right track. But in the long term, you've got to give the American people, not only the individual consumers, but you've got to give business people a clear indication that you're not going to go raise their taxes, because that would have a counter -- countereffect upon trying to revive the economy. It would be devastating.

I think, ultimately, we need to be really, maybe looking at enforcing our trade agreements far more so on both sides of the border. We haven't done that. We have trading partners who cheat. The result is we lose jobs. When people don't have a job, they don't have money to spend. And when they don't have money to spend, they don't buy homes and cars. And the next thing you know, we're in a recession. So if we're really serious about it, it starts with jobs. That's where it has to be focused.

MR. GREGORY: Governor, let me ask you about religion; it's been a big optic in your campaign. You said in the last couple of days that you think that the Constitution ought to be amended to reflect God's principles. What did you mean?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, the Constitution's been changed 27 times over the past 221 years. There are two areas of which I think the Constitution should be altered. And that is, to affirm human life and also to affirm marriage. Those are the only two issues that I think I would personally want to lead, not just support, but actually lead in getting done.

And I think the country needs to get some of these issues settled and get back to the strength of who we are, that we value the intrinsic worth and life of each human, and that we recognize that the fundamental unit of any government is its family and strong marriages. Without that, the rest of society begins to fall apart. And that's exactly what I meant and it's what I've been saying for many, many years. It's not a new message, it's actually something that has been around a long time -- the idea of what marriage means and a respect for human life.

MR. GREGORY: Certainly the case. But do you think that you turn off voters in South Carolina and beyond when you talk about amending the Constitution to reflect God's will?

MR. HUCKABEE: No, I don't think so at all. I think people understand that when we talk about marriage or we talk about human life, that we go back to even what our founders said when they said that all of us are created equal, and we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights, among these, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I think people do get it. I think sometimes people who talk about it don't get it, but I think the average American totally understands that the Judeo-Christian concept of right and wrong is clear, and it was the basis of how our founders looked at things -- that they wanted moral clarity. I don't think that offends very many people in this country.

MR. GREGORY: Therefore, sinners in this country, as you've talked about them before, like gays and lesbians -- would they be subject to some kind of sanction?

MR. HUCKBEE: No, David. In fact, let's clarify. Everybody's a sinner. Sinners aren't just people who do something I don't agree with. I'm a sinner, I would imagine you'd admit you are, too. Sinners simply mean that we've missed the mark, that we haven't hit perfection. I've never met a person who tried to claim -- well, I guess some of my political opponents might have tried to commit to being perfect, but I wouldn't try to say that.

And I think the fact is all of us have missed the mark of the bullseye, and that's what it means. That's all it means.

MR. GREGORY: You -- Rich Lowry, a conservative whose been critical of you in the past, describes you as "the Huckabee Hoax" today in a column in the New York Post. And his point is that you have failed thus far to demonstrate that you have any political traction outside of evangelical Christian voters. Do you dispute that? And what do you do to reach out beyond that evangelical base of the party?

MR. HUCKABEE: You know, that's one of those things that the Washington insiders love to say, that the only support I have is the evangelicals. Interestingly, though, this past week, national polls show me either at Number 1 or Number 2. So, you know, somebody can't be right.

When you say can I show anything. I can't, but the national polls reflect that there's a far broader base of support for me than exists just within evangelicals. In fact, if you look at the crosstabs of polls, all the evangelicals don't support me. So it's not monolithic, there's a wide group of people -- a lot of veterans; people who want a strong national defense; people who want to transform tax system support me; people who are conservative and believe that we ought to have lower taxes, less government, get governments off the backs of moms and dads trying to raise their kids.

There's a whole lot of people, David, who I think are part of that coalition, and it's not just evangelicals.

MR. GREGORY: But Governor, you'd have to admit that exit polling, both out of Iowa and New Hampshire, even Michigan, would reflect the fact that you have not done very well among those who do not identify themselves as evangelicals.

MR. HUCKABEE: I think what those polls reflect is that we were outspent 50-to-1 in Michigan, and we're still in the game. We were outspent probably 15-to-1 in New Hampshire, and we pulled ahead of people like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, who had a lot more name ID and money.

I know people are just trying to completely discredit my candidacy in many ways -- I'm not saying you are -- but there are many people who don't understand how is it possible that with so far fewer resources than some of these other candidates, not having the tens of millions of dollars, we've been able to be near the top of not only every poll, but also near the top of every election.

I'll tell you why. It's because it's about the message, and it's because a lot of American people really are looking for a president who can lead this country, not by waving a checkbook at them, but honestly lead this country with ideas of practically solving problems that people are demanding that we deal with. They look at my record, they know I've had more executive experience than anybody running for president, Democrat or Republican. I've been a governor and I've got a record of proven success of actually making things work.

People are so sick of Washington's inability to function, and I think they're ready for a new generation and a new kind of leader to have a chance at making this country great.

MR. GREGORY: I've got to let you go, Governor. Depending on the results tomorrow, will that determine whether you stay in this race or leave the race?

MR. HUCKABEE: Oh, we're going to be in the race, especially after we win tomorrow night in South Carolina. Why would we quit after a victory tomorrow night, which is exactly what we're predicting, David.

MR. GREGORY: Governor Huckabee, thank you very much for taking a few minutes now.

MR. HUCKABEE: You bet.

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