It could be Texas or bust for Mike Huckabee.
The long-shot GOP candidate is making a big final push in the Lone Star State ahead of Tuesday’s four-state primary contest. The former Arkansas governor says he’s going to keep “plugging away” until somebody reaches the 1,191 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
But depending on how he looks at it, front-runner John McCain could just shut him out come Wednesday morning.
Huckabee’s been sending mixed messages about what he means by that 1,191-delegate threshold. He said Friday he is in the race until somebody reaches 1,191 “pledged” delegates.
If that’s the case, it looks like no candidate will reach that figure come Wednesday morning.
McCain, who’s already earned presumptive nominee status and has been embraced by a cross-section of party figureheads, has 1,014 total delegates, according to the latest Associated Press tallies. But he has 912 pledged delegates.
Even if he wins all 256 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday, he’d still be more than 20 short, potentially pushing the race forward another week to the Mississippi contest. Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont vote Tuesday.
But if Huckabee’s waiting for a candidate to reach 1,191 total delegates, as he’s said on previous occasions, Tuesday could be the end for him. Total delegate counts include unpledged delegates, who go the convention not bound to the results of their states’ primaries or caucuses.
Huckabee has earned 257 total delegates.
Asked what he’ll do if neither candidate reaches the magic number, Huckabee said Friday in Texas: “I guess we keep plugging away. Our attitude has always been … as long as people are contributing and giving us the capacity to keep going and we, you know, haven’t been defeated by the number of delegates that are required to beat us, then we’re still in it.”
Huckabee strategist Ed Rollins told Politico.com that come Wednesday the campaign might suspend or scale back its operations, “but we’re not quitting” if nobody reaches the delegate threshold.
He said the tentative plan is to continue through Mississippi March 11 and even Pennsylvania in April.
But with McCain virtually assured the nomination, in due time, both candidates seem to be kicking back.
McCain is not campaigning this weekend, instead hosting a group of governors and senators near his vacation home in Arizona. The campaign insists it’s a social affair, and not a strategy session.
Meanwhile, Huckabee took time out Friday in Fort Worth, Texas, to try his hand at lassoing cattle. He missed on several attempts, but his wife, Janet, proved the better cowgirl, successfully lassoing one of the fake calves right off the bat.
“OK, so you’re laughing at me,” Huckabee joked to the crowd. “Do you think John McCain can do this better?”
He spent Saturday touring part of the Texas-Mexico border with former GOP candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter and border patrol agents. There he stressed the importance of border security.
Huckabee’s kept a busy schedule in Texas, but polls show he’s trailing McCain in the state by double digits.
An average of Texas polls on RealClearPolitics.com showed McCain with 55 percent, Huckabee with 32 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul with nearly 8 percent.
The former Arkansas governor said Friday he still wants the chance to debate McCain, who’s said he doubts he’ll take up Huckabee on the offer.
“I wish he would (debate) if he’s got time to take off this weekend,” he said.
But McCain already has turned his attention to the general election, spending his stump time going after Democratic front-runner Barack Obama and blasting him for his positions on the Iraq war, NAFTA and other issues.
FOX News’ Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.