Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who finished second in South Carolina's presidential primary, said Saturday he at least came close, and promised that the race for the GOP nomination remains "far, far from over."
"Tonight is not a time to start asking what if; it is a time to start talking about what now," he said.
Huckabee congratulated Arizona Sen. John McCain on his victory, and for running "a good and a decent campaign that elevates the party."
He said he had done likewise, and expressed an "extraordinary sense of pride and sheer joy that we got as far as we did when no one thought it was even possible for us to be in contention."
Huckabee insisted he could compete in Florida and the states beyond.
"This is not an event. It is a process, and the process is far, far from over," he said as about 400 supporters cheered.
The closely contested state was crucial for Huckabee, who needed to prove his victory in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses was no fluke.
A former Baptist minister, Huckabee had hoped grass-roots support from born-again Christians would help him outflank McCain's superior campaign finances and organization of MCain, winner of the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary on Tuesday and the barely contested Nevada caucuses on Saturday, but did not make an all-out effort in South Carolina.
Without naming names, Huckabee tried to exploit McCain's weaknesses by calling attention to McCain's support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and railing against Washington insiders who have failed to fix the country's problems. McCain was first elected to Congress in 1982.
And he revived controversy over the Confederate flag, saying it should be up to South Carolina whether to fly the symbol -- of racism to some, Southern pride to others -- over the state Capitol dome. McCain rejected that position after losing the 2000 election, and he said last week he was proud of those who wanted the flag taken down.
Huckabee may have been hurt by his decision to spend extra time campaigning in Michigan, where he came in third, instead of in South Carolina. Senior aides made a last-minute decision to return to Michigan last Sunday and Monday after seeing huge crowds there during a Michigan swing on Jan. 12 and 13.
His support from born-again or evangelical Christians was a double-edged sword for Huckabee; it propelled him to victory in Iowa, but it made many people think he appealed exclusively to religious conservatives.