WASHINGTON - Republican Mike Huckabee on Saturday said he won't quit the presidential race and rejected suggestions John McCain is the party's inevitable nominee, saying the voters in remaining states deserve an election, not a coronation.
"I didn't major in math," the former Arkansas governor told a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting. "I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them."
Huckabee, who trails in the nomination race with 198 delegates to McCain's 719, said he was aware there had been rumors that he might quit the race, but assured conservatives: "Am I quitting? No."
"There are only a few states that have voted — 27 have not," Huckabee said. "People in those 27 states deserve more than a coronation, they deserve an election."
He said he is comfortable with where his campaign is now, given the resources he's had, and he plans to stay in the campaign until he can win or his opponent has the delegates to claim the prize. A total of 1,191 delegates are needed to secure the GOP nomination.
"I won't drop out until at least that happens, then we'll see," he said at a news conference later. He noted that his recent success has helped fundraising, adding: "We raised more than a quarter of a million dollars in 24 hours online yesterday."
His speech at the conservatives conference was attended by more than a thousand people who applauded wildly at his announcement that he is staying in the race. The ballroom was about two-thirds full, however, with rows of empty seats at the fringe. Several times supporters broke out in chants of "We like Mike."
A former Southern Baptist minister, Huckabee appealed to the audience by playing up conservative themes, including references to his faith, his firm opposition to abortion and his determination to replace the Internal Revenue Service with a national sales tax.
At the news conference later, he discussed McCain, an Arizona senator, noting their differences on a human life amendment, embryonic stem cell research, immigration, and campaign finance laws. But he praised the tenor of their competition.
"We are the two candidates who haven't attacked anybody," he said. "We're the two that have run a very civil, rather noble kind of campaign."
He said better to save the sharpest criticism "for the other guys."
Asked whether he was considering whether to run on the same ticket as McCain, he said:
"I'm not at all. I don't have any illusion that Senator McCain would select me as a running mate, or that I would automatically select him."