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k0108 BC-IA-Huckabee-Republic 1stLd-Writethru 07-12 0872

Huckabee sees "refreshingly stubborn" nominee

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By MIKE GLOVER

AP Political Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican Mike Huckabee believes that presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama will drive home social conservatives leery of John McCain, but McCain will add independent voters attracted by his "refreshingly stubborn" approach to politics.

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Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who won Iowa’s leadoff Republican caucuses, was the keynote speaker at the Republican State Convention on Saturday. His mission was to shore up support for presumptive nominee McCain among influential social and religious conservatives. Those activists were key to Huckabee’s win in the January caucuses, and he made the case that those conservatives face a clear choice in November.

"My job here today is to remind people that while, and particularly here in Iowa, John McCain may not have been their first choice, he’s the best choice as they think about going in and voting in November," said Huckabee. "He wasn’t my first choice either, but he’s certainly my choice now."

McCain has angered social conservatives in the past by backing campaign finance reform measures, stem cell research and helping broker a compromise to avert a filibuster on the confirmation of federal judges. Huckabee urged activists to look at the larger picture.

"Those are things that created tension," conceded Huckabee.

"Politics is rarely about getting everything you want," said Huckabee. "It’s not order from the menu, it’s the blue plate special."

The challenge McCain faces from social conservatives is not convincing them he’s the most conservative of their choices, but generating the sort of enthusiasm needed to put him over the top in a state that’s very competitive. Democrat Al Gore carried the state by about 4,000 votes in 2000, and President Bush won the state’s seven electoral votes by about 12,000 votes in 2004, largely because of an extraordinary turnout by social and religious conservatives.

"When I think about the policies that Barack Obama would bring, it makes it very easy to encourage people to vote for McCain," said Huckabee. "On issue after issue, if they look at the two candidates, it shouldn’t a hard choice for them."

Huckabee, an ordained minister, did spark that kind of energy in his caucus campaign, but he said McCain brings other strengths to the race.

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"McCain will have a much bigger draw from independents, I think that’s what people are underestimating," said Huckabee. "There are a lot of people who are going to vote for John McCain who would not have voted for George Bush. He’s already proven his capacity to win independents, that’s really been the strength throughout his electoral career."

Huckabee argued that the campaign has only just begun, and Obama will provide the type of contrast that’s needed to give Republicans a jolt of energy.

"They’re going to be energized because there’s going to be a fear of Obama’s policies," said Huckabee. "Here’s a guy who has very little background to be president."

All that will unfold as the campaign plays out, Huckabee said. The same reputation as a maverick that’s given McCain strength among independents, however, has caused him trouble with the GOP base conservatives, many who don’t trust him. Huckabee said time will change all of that.

"This is July, it’s hot, people haven’t focused that much, but they will be this fall," said Huckabee. "If you look at the options, John McCain is the clear choice and we need to get behind him because this election is going to matter generationally."

Huckabee said McCain’s appeal will improve as the campaign unfolds not only because of his conservative positions, but because of his doggedly independent approach to the campaign.

"McCain has his own strengths, he’s a person who has a refreshingly stubborn approach to his own conventions," said Huckabee. "He’s maybe conservative, but not necessarily hard-core Republican."

On issues that count to social conservatives, McCain is the clear pick, Huckabee argued.

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"Their choice is Barack Obama and John McCain," said Huckabee. "Which one is closer to their position on the sanctity of life? It’s unquestionably John McCain."

At their state convention, the 1,400 Republican activists were electing delegates to the party’s national nominating convention in St. Paul, Minn., and crafting a sharply conservative party platform and conducting other party business. Democrats held their state convention last month.

"It is now time for us as a party to come together," said Huckabee. "This is not about an individual candidate this is about our country."

As a former southern governor, Huckabee said he saluted the country for moving to the point where an African-American could win a major party nomination.

"That is a good thing for all of America," said Huckabee, who argued Obama should be defeated because of his policies, not his race.

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