By DAVE UMHOEFER
Waukesha – Mike Huckabee implored Wisconsin supporters Wednesday to defy the pundits and his Republican opponent and boost his longshot bid, which he vowed to carry all the way to the national convention.
But the former Arkansas governor, at a rally in Waukesha, also said the election was about upholding the core principles of the party, not just winning.
“It seems like someone forgot to tell you this race isn’t over,” Huckabee told several hundred supporters packed into the Country Springs Hotel. “I’m awfully glad to tell you your vote still matters.”
Huckabee, the former broadcaster and Baptist preacher, pumped up the crowd with his trademark wit, quotes from Scripture, tough stance on illegal immigration and an anti-abortion message that he said GOP front-runner John McCain could not match.
He never named the Arizona senator, instead referring only to “three U.S. senators” from a Washington culture that has turned its back on the country on a host of issues.
He hawked his sweeping tax plan, calling for energy independence within a decade and beefing up the military.
His most emphatic comments were reserved for the abortion issue, and they drew the night’s biggest ovation.
“Our value comes because God created us,” Huckabee said. “We value every single human life,” from the unborn to the elderly in nursing homes.
Of the remaining major-party candidates, only he still backs a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution.
Unless the value of all life is recognized, Huckabee said, “I don’t think we can enjoy the blessings of God.”
Huckabee will be in Wisconsin all day today and into Friday.
Impressing the voters
Scott Judson, a Waukesha man and former Libertarian candidate for state office, showed up at the rally hunting for a conservative he could support. His wife, Candy, said she was similarly undecided.
Economic and foreign policy issues are most important to him, Scott Judson said. But it looks like a weak GOP field, he said before the speech.
After Huckabee’s speech, Scott Judson said he was impressed and declared himself a Huckabee backer.
“He said all the right words tonight,” Judson said.
Judson said he disliked McCain’s opposition to tax cuts that President Bush initiated.
“I’m glad he’s staying in the race to the end,” said Dave Vrba, a Waukesha resident at the rally with his wife, Tammy, and their two young kids. “It gives people like me a voice.”
Vrba said Huckabee’s much-documented weight loss was inspirational, as was his intelligent, open style and sense of humor.
Tammy Vrba, who usually votes Democratic but is backing Huckabee, said she had heard far more specific plans from the former governor than from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on the Democratic side.
John Sperandeo, a painting contractor, drove from Kenosha to see Huckabee. “I love this guy. I believe a president should be a man of God. He openly declares it, as you should.”
Sperandeo said he thought Huckabee would continue Bush’s war on terror and hang tough in Iraq. Asked about McCain, he said: “He hasn’t shown he’s a man of God.”
Huckabee plans stops in four Wisconsin cities today. His itinerary includes a morning rally in Madison, afternoon events in La Crosse and the Wausau area, and an evening visit to Green Bay.
Huckabee said he had visited Green Bay’s Lambeau Field while campaigning for the national ticket in 2004. While on a tour, he sang the national anthem at the 50-yard line with two other governors, in a darkened stadium near midnight.
He called Lambeau a shrine.
On Friday, he is scheduled to eat breakfast at a pancake house in Milwaukee before meeting with Journal Sentinel reporters and editors.
Addressing a reporter’s question after Wednesday’s rally, Huckabee defended his decision to leave the campaign trail for 36 to 48 hours this weekend to make a paid speech to a young professional group in the Cayman Islands.
“I’m not independently wealthy,” he said.