Huckabee's pitch:A conservative who can win the White House

FORT MILL -- Fresh off what he called a "stunning upset" in the recent Iowa straw poll, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee brought his campaign's newfound momentum to York County with a simple request to Republican voters: Give me a second look.

At a lunchtime appearance in York and later at two stops in Fort Mill on Tuesday, the former Arkansas governor cast himself as a conservative with a softer side who can appeal to moderates and revive the GOP in November 2008.

"I don't hate Hillary Clinton," he told 60 listeners at Beef O' Brady's restaurant in Fort Mill's Baxter Village. "I really don't. I don't hate anybody. But I'll tell you this: I'd be a very different president than she would be."

Huckabee, 52, never spoke the name of his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who invested heavily in Iowa and finished first in the straw poll. But it wasn't hard to figure out the target of his comments.

"This country is not so much about gold roots as it is about grass roots," Huckabee said, later adding, "Leadership is not about having enough money that you can buy the presidency."

Earlier in the day, Huckabee spoke to 100 people in downtown York, becoming the first presidential candidate to visit the county seat since the late Sen. Strom Thurmond in the 1940s, according to some locals.

"They're people like I grew up with," he said of the York audience. "You can tell these are mostly God-fearing, church-going, down-home people that work hard and don't expect people to do a whole lot for them."

A shot at the top tier?

Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have emerged as front-runners for the Republican nomination, with Huckabee far behind in fundraising and organization.

Much of York County's GOP establishment has coalesced behind Romney, who has earned the backing of Larry and Kathy Bigham and former county chairman Henry Eldridge.

But Huckabee supporters believe the second-place Iowa finish on Aug. 15 gave his campaign the jolt it needs to catch on.

"Romney's changed directions too many times for me," said Tom Downs, a retired tool salesman from Fort Mill. "We have some that say they're conservatives, and one who is true."

In Fort Mill, Huckabee didn't bring up the thorniest issue facing Republicans and the country: The war in Iraq.

He called for better treatment of returning soldiers through a Veterans Bill of Rights as well as a radical overhaul of the tax code, including elimination of the IRS. On these issues, he sought to contrast himself with other candidates.

"A whole bunch of them come from Washington," he said. "If, as one of 535 members of Congress, you haven't fixed it yet, why would we elevate you to the next level?"

Speaking with reporters afterward, Huckabee seemed genuinely nervous about throwing out the first pitch at the Charlotte Knights game Tuesday night.

He tossed a soft lob that landed well right of home plate, but it reached the catcher without bouncing.

To view a video of Huckabee's York County visit, go to