The Huckabee's are headed to South Carolina after a third place showing in New Hampshire (Photo Credit: AP)
GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CNN) – As his wife Janet poured Chick-Fil-A iced tea for staff and reporters on board, Mike Huckabee flew into friendly Southern territory the morning after his third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.
The former Arkansas governor is now hoping for his second big win of the primary season in South Carolina, where the ordained Baptist minister is counting on his evangelical voting base to seal his win in a crowded GOP field of competitive candidates, including John McCain, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney.
Huckabee told bleary-eyed reporters on a chartered Express Jet flight from Manchester to Columbia, South Carolina that he’s ready to deal with South Carolina's mud-slinging reputation, and likely attacks on his tax and immigration record. "I've always said I reserve the right to get the truth out about my record," he said. (Video: Huckabee speaks in South Carolina Wednesday)
In what could ultimately be a tight race against a rejuvenated McCain in South Carolina, Huckabee emphasized there is a "genuinely mutual respect" and that he doesn't anticipate taking the gloves off, unless McCain takes them off first.
He claimed he's not worried about McCain's superior record on military and foreign policy matters. "You know the idea that, you know, he's got more experience. Ask Joe Biden and Chris Dodd what that did for them.”
The makeup of Huckabee's bare-bones South Carolina organization is much like his winning Iowa infrastructure: a handful of staffers, a band of loyal volunteers, and thousands of evangelical Christians.
Huckabee, who said he has gained ten or twelve pounds during the campaign, thinks that message overwhelms organization, even against McCain, a veteran of political warfare here who boasts more endorsements in South Carolina than any candidate.
McCain lost South Carolina’s 2000 presidential primary to George W. Bush.
Authenticity matters, Huckabee said, which is why Hillary Clinton's close-to-tearful moment in a New Hampshire diner on Monday contributed to her stunning comeback in the Democratic primary. Huckabee said it "cut her some slack."
"I'm maybe one of the few people who saw it as what it was, a very in the moment thing. I think people want their leaders to show that they are human. They're not so robotic and so programmed that they are devoid of any emotion," he said Wednesday.
After Huckabee finished his comments, his wife Janet once again worked the aisles, asking for recommendations from journalists on whether she should buy a Mac or PC. She currently has a Dell.
– CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby