From NBC contributor Jenny Anzelmo and NBC's Lauren Appelbaum
LYNCHBURG, VA -- After Huckabee delivered an address at the evangelical Liberty University here, he picked up an endorsement from Jerry Falwell, Jr., the son of the school's late founder. "My father supported Huckabee before he was number two in the polls," Falwell said. "We're just proud, honored to have you here."
Falwell was not expecting to endorse Huckabee today, but when put on the spot, he did. "He's my choice, yes," Falwell said to cheers from students and a smile from Huckabee. While Falwell called Huckabee his "close friend," he also said Thompson would have been good choice.
While this is a personal endorsement and not an endorsement from the university, it is valuable as Huckabee's campaign continues to grow momentum heading into tonight's debate. Huckabee's poll numbers have tripled since July, and the latest Washington Post/ABC poll shows him at 24% in Iowa, just behind Romney's 28%.
In terms of endorsements, Thompson has the nod from National Right to Life, and Giuliani has Pat Robertson's support. Huckabee, who is running on the Christian conservative platform, now has this endorsement to add to the mix.
As mentioned earlier, Huckabee's opponents have been attacking his gubernatorial record, especially when it comes to taxes and immigration. In light of closing in on front-runner status, Huckabee expects there to be "a lot more venom pointed my way" in tonight's CNN/YouTube debate. "I'll defend myself, but I don't think my job is to go and pop somebody in the kneecap," he said. "People don't want a president because he has disabled the other candidates. They want a president who's looking at the future and has a vision for America."
On the issue of electability, Huckabee continued to stress his appeal to the "ordinary American" and called himself the only candidate who "has faced and defeated the Clinton political machine four times." When asked a question on Bill Clinton saying he "opposed Iraq from the beginning" in South Carolina yesterday, Huckabee declined to comment but made it clear he thinks Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.
"I plan to run against her, not him," he responded. "She'll be my opponent, not him. And we'll have plenty of time to discuss it. But there will be enough fun having the Democrats sort out his statements without me jumping in the middle of it. I've got my own tank to swim in right now."
The Liberty students received Huckabee well. When asked why younger voters should support him, Huckabee called himself a "vertical thinker" and said younger people are "more interested in what you going to do." As evidence of this youth support, after the endorsement, many Liberty University students asked fellow classmates to sign a petition for Huckabee to be on the Virginia ballot. Liberty student Kate Rundele said she agrees "with him on pretty much everything" and stressed the importance of having a Christian president -- even taking the opportunity to say Mitt Romney does not fall in this category. Josh Covert, another student, said the prospect of Romney becoming president is "a scary situation." They both stressed their beliefs that Romney would push a Mormon agenda on the American public.
Liberty University has yet to give an official endorsement, but the LU board of directors has voiced their support for the governor. Jerry's brother Jonathan Falwell has also given Huckabee a personal endorsement.