ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Battling to stay competitive after his weekend loss in South Carolina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is taking new steps to save money, including no longer scheduling planes and buses for journalists trying to cover his presidential campaign.
Huckabee said he will continue to campaign in Florida on a shoestring budget, but added that he may pull out of the state before its Jan. 29 Republican primary if his prospects look dim.
"I don't want to abandon Florida yet," Huckabee told reporters Monday on a late-night flight from Orlando to Atlanta, where he planned to campaign Tuesday. "We have not come to the conclusion that Florida is out of play."
He said his campaign will evaluate the Florida situation day by day. Meanwhile, he said, he will find time to campaign in several other southern states holding primaries on Feb. 5.
"We really need to conserve as much as we can" for TV and radio ads in those states, Huckabee said in a 36-minute news conference at the back of his press charter. He said he is airing no ads in Florida, one of the nation's largest and costliest states for campaigns.
"We don't have enough people to try to field staff in all of these states," he said. "So what we'll do is put a leaner team together."
As of Tuesday, the Huckabee campaign stopped arranging planes, vans, meals, hotel reservations and other means of helping national news organizations cover his events. News outlets pay for their travel, but campaigns can lose money if many seats go vacant.
"A 50-seat plane for 15 people doesn't make sense," Huckabee said, noting that his press coverage has thinned since his Iowa caucus victory was followed by losses to Arizona Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Huckabee also defended his relatively light schedule of public events in Florida. McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are campaigning heavily there this week.
Huckabee made a brief appearance in Orlando on Monday, and planned a late-afternoon visit to Gainesville on Tuesday. Meanwhile, he campaigned in Atlanta on Monday and Tuesday, and planned to spend much of Wednesday in Little Rock, doing long-delayed chores such as seeing his eye doctor.
"We'll be in Florida everyday this week," Huckabee said. But he will also find time to campaign in Georgia and other states that could include Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, he said. They are among the 24 states holding primaries on Feb. 5, and they include many social conservatives and evangelical Christians who are the mainstay of his campaign.
His noon event Tuesday in Atlanta featured anti-abortion activists.
Huckabee denied that his second-place finish in South Carolina on Saturday significantly robbed his campaign of momentum, although many Republican strategists disagree.
"I haven't necessarily detected that people are bailing on us at all," he said.
Huckabee said no Republican has established himself as a front-runner, and therefore winning delegates in largely overlooked states can be as important as winning closely watched states such as Florida. Some party activists speculate that Huckabee hopes to win enough second-tier states to cut a deal later, such as a vice presidential spot on McCain's ticket, should McCain win the nomination.
Huckabee dismissed such talk Monday, saying his goal is to win the nomination and the presidency. Still, he indicated that he knows defeat is possible, but he will not go into debt to avoid it.
"If the campaign doesn't make it all the way we want to be walk away completely in the black," he said.