From NBC/NJ's Matthew Berger
TEXARKANA, Texas -- Huckabee accused the Rev. John Hagee of playing politics over principle by endorsing McCain, and criticized the Republican front-runner for not accepting a debate.
Speaking after a rally in Texarkana, Huckabee said he was surprised by Hagee's endorsement because of McCain's lack of fervor on abortion -- despite his 100% anti-abortion rights voting record. (McCain has, however, voted for stem-cell research.) Huckabee also said Hagee told him he endorsed because he assumed McCain would win the nomination.
"He just thought that the political rationale was he wanted to get on Sen. McCain's team, and he thought he was gonna win the nomination," Huckabee said. "I don't think that's a foregone conclusion, and even if I did, I would stand on principle more than I would politics."
Huckabee said he spoke with Hagee, expressed his "disappointment and surprise" and asked him to hold off on publicly backing McCain.
"I felt that it was totally out of character for what I knew he believed," Huckabee said, "or at least I thought he did."
Huckabee also criticized McCain for not accepting a debate among the remaining Republican presidential candidates, after suggesting his interest earlier in the week.
"I would debate anywhere, anytime, there's no issue that I would be afraid to sit down in front of Sen. McCain and discuss, none," Huckabee said. "And if you're going to be president, you ought to be willing to sit down in front of any group."
During the rally, Huckabee made a rare attack against Obama, criticizing the cost of his spending proposals. "When I hear Barack Obama say that he's gonna provide everybody with health care and college tuition and pave the streets with gold," Huckabee said at a rally. "Ya know, the American Taxpayers Union has already figured out that just the proposals he's put on the table so far already are going to cost about $287 billion, so far."
He went on to say that the estimates don't include costs if the United States abandons Iraq. "If we were doing the MasterCard commercial," Huckabee said, "we'd simply say we know what some of the costs are, some of the items on his agenda -- priceless. But this much we know, we can't afford it."