When former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee conceded the Republican presidential nomination to Sen. John McCain on March 4, the two men had something in common: Few people thought either would get this far.
Just last summer, McCain's campaign had nearly imploded and Huckabee's candidacy was hardly off the ground. Only a few months later, McCain was making a remarkable comeback and Huckabee was making a remarkable surge.
But despite a stunning victory in Iowa followed by a string of primary wins across the South, Huckabee couldn't match McCain's momentum. The governor picked up some 300 pledged delegates, but when McCain reached the 1,191 he needed to secure the nomination, Huckabee bowed out.
From a hotel ballroom in Irving, Texas, the governor consoled supporters with the deadpan humor that marked his campaign. "We started this effort with very little recognition and virtually no resources," he said. "We ended with slightly more recognition and very few resources."
Funny, but mostly true. While Huckabee's recognition swelled beyond "slightly more" than when he started, his resources remained low. By Jan. 31, his campaign had raised $13 million. McCain had taken in $53 million. (Mitt Romney had hauled in $105 million.)
"To get as far as we did with the resources we had is pretty remarkable," Huckabee told WORLD a few days after leaving the race.
What else did Huckabee find remarkable about campaigning? "Running for president was not nearly as savage as running [for governor] in Arkansas," he says. After experiencing the "brutal" political climate in his home state, the national stage wasn't nearly as harsh as he expected.
Neither was the press coverage: "I found the national press was far more professional and less petty and personal than I would have imagined."
Still, Huckabee acknowledges the media fixated on his evangelical appeal even while evangelical leaders avoided him. "I probably had as strong of support from Catholics and non-Christians as I did evangelicals," he says.
When political observers wonder out loud whether Huckabee is a rising leader in the evangelical movement, Huckabee demurs: "It's certainly better than to hear them say, 'Boy, I hope he's finished.'"
Huckabee vows he's not finished, but he won't speculate much on specific plans for the future. He says he's open to helping McCain's campaign, but doesn't yet know what role staffers might want him to play. In the meantime, there's one role he's not counting on: the vice presidency.
Huckabee hasn't publicly ruled out accepting such an offer from McCain, but told WORLD: "I've been given no indication whatsoever that I'm even on a short list, so there's no point in me spending any time or energy whatsoever entertaining that notion."
Instead, the governor plans to spend time and energy helping Republicans in House and Senate races this fall. He's still researching which candidates he might publicly support, but says solidly conservative underdogs are attractive: "There are things that would endear me to a guy like that-who knows what it's like to fight when no one else believes in him."
There's another group of people that Huckabee is concerned about as well. Three days after withdrawing from the race, the governor told supporters that one of his immediate concerns was his campaign staff. "Pray for them that they will all find good jobs soon," Huckabee wrote on his campaign blog. "Many gave up very good careers to come to work for us at a fraction of their salaries. One of my priorities is to make sure they land on their feet."