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NBC "Today" - Transcript


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MS. VIEIRA: Senator John McCain has a huge lead in the delegate count, but former Governor Mike Huckabee is refusing calls to drop out. And this weekend he pulled off wins in Louisiana and Kansas. The former Arkansas governor is in Virginia, which holds its primary tomorrow.

Governor Huckabee, good morning to you, and congratulations, sir.

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, thank you very much, Meredith. We had a good weekend. We're not sure, but we may have done better in Washington. You know, they quit counting votes after 87 percent were in, so we're challenging those results. We want a fair election up there, and we're just not sure we had one.

MS. VIEIRA: You said even you were surprised, though, by the results over the weekend. What do you make of them?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, I think a lot of people are ready to be given a choice. The Republican Party is not a party that likes to be told what to do. A lot of the establishment want to just say, "It's over. Why don't we just have a coronation?" But we're supposed to have an election. That means people get to choose.

They have a lot of people in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas. They haven't even voted yet. So what do we do, just tell them, "Don't bother to show up"? I think it disenfranchises their votes, and that's not a healthy thing for the country, certainly not for the Republican Party.

MS. VIEIRA: But Governor, are you feeling that pressure to drop out? When former Governor Romney dropped out of the race last week, he said he did so in part because to stay in the race would damage the party. So are people saying the same thing to you, that it would be better if you stepped aside?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, nobody who is objective, none who are supporting me. I mean, the people who are saying that are the people who are supporting Senator McCain. And I can understand that. They'd love for me to step aside. But, you know, to say that it's bad for the party for us to have a debate, that it's bad for the party for us to have an election, my gosh, I really would like to think that it's good for the party for us to talk about it. I've always believed competition breeds excellence, and the lack of competition breeds mediocrity.

MS. VIEIRA: You know, there have been 32 contests so far. You've only won eight of them. So why do you believe you are the right man to energize this party?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, if you look at where I won them, I won them in the states that we have to win if we're going to win in November. You don't win the Republican presidency by winning California, New York and Delaware and Connecticut. You win that presidency by West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas. Those are the states that I've won.

So we have to decide. Are we wanting to win in November, or do we just want to rack up some delegates? And I think what I've proven is that I appeal to the conservative base of our party. That's who is supporting me. And that's going to matter if we really are serious about beating either Hillary or Obama.

MS. VIEIRA: Meanwhile, over the weekend, President Bush said that -- he called Senator McCain a true Republican -- a true conservative, I'm sorry -- but said he has some convincing to do with the right wing of the party to convince them that he is the right man. Do you think that he could convince the right wing of the party that he is the right man?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, I think, you know, when we get a nominee, the party will rally around him unless the party feels like that they've been railroaded. And one of the reasons that I think I need to stay in this race for the party for the fact that I still could win. I know people think that that's impossible. Nobody though the Giants were going to win the Super Bowl either.

So the point is that it's not a healthy thing for our party to just sort of become lethargic, say it's over, have a coronation instead of an election. Quite frankly, I think it's very healthy that we go forward with an election process. And that's what we're going to do.

MS. VIEIRA: Yeah, but you used that word "railroaded," which is a pretty strong word. Do you believe that's what the McCain people are doing?

MR. HUCKABEE: I don't think it's necessarily the McCain people. I think it's just a lot of the people in our party who are restless. But they need a choice. And many people support me because I support the FAIR tax, which would abolish the IRS; others because I support a human life amendment, because McCain-Feingold campaign finance or the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. There are some differences.

I think John McCain's a conservative. But the question is, is he the best candidate to put forth against either Obama or Hillary? And I think the Republican voters ought to decide that, not the party bosses, and certainly not an individual chairman in Washington State, who just arbitrarily decides to quit counting votes at 87 percent of the vote. That was the most outrageous thing I think I've heard of. It's not the thing we expect in the Republican Party for sure.

MS. VIEIRA: All right, Governor Mike Huckabee, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow in Virginia and Maryland.

MR. HUCKABEE: Thank you, Meredith.

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