(Photo: AP Images / J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON A determined Mike Huckabee defied critical members of the GOP by claiming victory in two states this past weekend despite being heavily pressured to quit the race.
The seemingly chronic underdog won Kansas by a landslide as well as Louisiana Saturday to the chagrin of some fellow Republicans who argue that his staying in the race is hurting the party.
It was an important victory, especially after the pundits spent the past few days saying this campaign is over, said campaign manager Chip Saltsman to ABC News. Kansas said not so fast.
Huckabee won some 60 percent of the votes in Kansas compared to McCains 24 percent, capturing all 36 delegates in the state caucuses, according to The Associated Press.
Am I quitting? Lets get that settled right now. No, Im not, Huckabee said during his speech to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington over the weekend.
Several prominent Republican leaders have lately urged Huckabee to step aside so that the party can start launching its national campaign around current frontrunner John McCain before the Democratic Party. Huckabee, who has 217 delegates, is too far behind McCain, who has 723 delegates, to win the partys nomination, the Republican figures argue.
I know the pundits, and I know what they say: The math doesnt work out Well, I didnt major in math, I majored in miracles, said Huckabee, a divinity student, to ABC News on Saturday. And I still believe in those, too,
A Republican nominee needs 1,191 delegates, and only about 1,000 delegates are left.
Republican strategist Karl Rove, who masterminded President Bushs landslide re-election win in 2004, is among those who do not believe Huckabee could win the GOP nomination.
I find it very unlikely, completely implausible that Governor Huckabee could win 83 percent of the delegates by either winning the caucuses and primaries here on out and/or having some of the bound delegates, pledged delegates change their minds, Rove said on CBS.
But Rove added, I dont think anybody should be trying to pressure him (Huckabee) to get out of the race before hes ready to get out of the race.
Christian right leader Gary Bauer, who was a Republican presidential candidate in 2000, is another party member who doesnt believe Huckabee can win the nomination.
He said it is to the advantage of the Republican Party that the Democratic candidates are in a brutal fight that could last until the Democratic National Convention in late August, which could make it difficult for Democratic voters to come together.
The one advantage that conservatives may have is that we could [now] come together earlier than them, Bauer strategized, according to OneNewsNows. So I would hope that Mike Huckabee would follow the lead of Mitt Romney at this point.
Former Republican presidential candidate Romney announced that he was suspending his campaign, or essentially quitting, last Thursday.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has endorsed McCain, has also asked Huckabee to exit the race.
But Huckabee's response to all the Republican leaders asking him to quit was:
The Democrats havent settled their nominee either, so for us to suddenly act like we have to all step aside and have a coronation instead of an election, thats the antithesis of everything Republicans are supposed to believe, Huckabee argued on NBC. We believe competition breeds excellence and the lack of it breeds mediocrity.
So this nonsense about how I should step aside and have a cakewalk all the way to the election, thats crazy. Unless they were all to step aside and let me have a cakewalk, then that would be a fine thing, Huckabee said, according to CBS
Yet in the midst of pressure to leave the race, a hard-to-get Christian right leader gave Huckabee a surprising endorsement last week. Influential pro-family leader Dr. James Dobson endorsed Huckabee following Romneys announcement of his suspended campaign. Dobson, who has made it clear that he cannot and will not vote for McCain, explained that Huckabee is the only conservative left in the race.
Similarly, many conservatives have also expressed hesitation at supporting McCain, who is seen as a moderate or liberal by the GOPs right wing.
Only one-fifth (19.7 percent) of conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend said they believe McCain was a true conservative, according to a poll of 1,000 random CPAC participants. Another 20.8 percent said they are still undecided about the Arizona senator.
CPAC is the nations largest annual gathering of conservatives.
From these results, it is clear that Senator McCain has a challenge in gaining the conservative support he needs in order to win the general election, said David Franke of ConservativeHQ.com, which conducted the poll.
Even if you add in the people who will limit their activity to voting for him, and all of the undecided conservatives (not likely), he will have only 83.5 percent of the conservative vote, Franke commented.
Historically, the Republican presidential candidate needs more than 80 percent of the conservative vote in order to win.
The poll results show he can possibly reach that level of conservative support, but it will be dauntingly hard, Franke noted.
Frontrunner McCain on Friday also acknowledged that Huckabee remains a threat to this presidential bid, calling him a viable candidate that continues to show strength, according to CNN.
Obviously we are pleased with the events that have happened, but we still have a ways to go and well continue campaigning, McCain said.
During an interview Saturday, Huckabee defended his decision to continue his campaign by saying Americans dont want to be told who their president will be.
And, in the Republican Party, people want to make a choice. They dont want somebody else making that decision for them, he said to CNNs Wolf Blitzer.
Theres something going on out there, its called an election, Huckabee reminded.
The Republican and Democratic Potomac Primaries in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia will take place Tuesday.