LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Despite John McCain's sweep of the Potomac primaries Tuesday, Mike Huckabee said Republican voters still want to hear an alternative voice in deciding who should be the party's presidential nominee.
"There is still a sense in the Republican Party to have a choice," Huckabee said after a strong showing in Virginia, where he said he closed a broad gap between him and McCain.
"Just a few days ago, last Friday, a lot of the polls showed me behind by 30 points," the former Arkansas governor said in the lobby of a Little Rock bank after watching election returns. "Yesterday, we closed within 11 or 12. Maybe if we had a few more days we could have closed the gap all the way."
"When we don't win we're disappointed but we're not knocked down," Huckabee said. "We did exceptionally well in the rural areas. I've never lived a day in that region; he spent the last 25 years there."
McCain defeated Huckabee in Virginia by margin of 49 percent to 43 percent. McCain also won GOP primaries in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
The Arizona senator maintains a strong lead in the number of delegates. Huckabee is third in the delegate count, behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who suspended his campaign last week.
Huckabee noted again Tuesday that McCain still hasn't reached the 1,191 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.
"That has not yet happened. We're still continuing the work," Huckabee said.
While McCain has a large lead, Huckabee said his continued presence in the race was not a drag on the party or its presumptive nominee. He said competition was good.
Huckabee said he had called McCain to congratulate him but that, in their conversation, McCain had not asked him to step aside and clear a way to the nomination.
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