SIOUX CITY, Iowa — A blip in most of the early polling, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Saturday he believes his conservative views will prevail.
"Sometimes when people say, 'When you get traction, I'm going to be with you,' my answer is, 'You are my traction,' " the former Arkansas governor told The Associated Press.
"If people of genuine conservative convictions don't support a conservative with convictions, then quite frankly I'm not sure what the point would be to be in politics," he said in an interview.
Huckabee was on a one-day visit to heavily Republican western Iowa, his second trip to the state since forming an exploratory committee. But in a state whose precinct caucuses will launch the presidential nominating season, Huckabee has spent less time than better known rivals and trails in most early polling.
A battle for party direction
Some Republicans said Huckabee's conservative message appeals to the GOP base, but he needs to convince activists he is a serious player. Huckabee said that will happen naturally over the next few months as Republicans begin to sort through the field.
He dismissed early polls as nothing more than a gauge of name identification.
"I believe I can win or I wouldn't be in this race," said Huckabee. "It will happen because over the next few months people are going to start sifting beyond the trappings and start asking not just what is this person saying, but is what this person saying consistent with what this person has been saying and what this person has actually done."
Huckabee argued that the GOP primary will be a struggle for the direction of the party, with better known rivals like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani seeking to move the party away from its conservative roots.
"Conservatives will have a real choice to make," said Huckabee. "They are either going to decide that it does matter who they elect and that's why they are in politics, or the conservative movement will essentially become nonexistent at that point."
The Iowa factor
Huckabee said the first real test of his strength will come this summer when the Iowa Republican Party holds a high-profile straw poll.
"If I can do better than expected in the Iowa straw poll, then it's going to prove there is momentum," he said.
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Iowa Republican Party Chairman Ray Hoffman agreed caucus-goers are still waiting to decide. "They are looking for a message," he said.
Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats said Huckabee has a shot, considering that Iowa Republicans' tend to favor strong conservatives.
But many conservatives won't pay attention to Huckabee until he proves himself, the same hurdle faced by Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, said the state's House GOP leader, Chris Rants of Sioux City.
"Voters are looking at not just how they match up on the scorecard, but can they go the distance and are they electable," Rants said.
Iowa Christian Alliance head Steve Scheffler said most in the party's religious conservative base also are still looking over the field.
"It's going to take a lot of hand-holding," said Scheffler. "I don't think there's any movement, really, en masse toward one candidate."
Huckabee said that's precisely the dynamic he needs.
"There are several reasons this is the place I am going to break out," said Huckabee. "Demographically and culturally, this is a place where I'm very comfortable and at home. It's a state where retail politics does matter."
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