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Huckabee struggles to keep 'scrappy little army' in fight

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  • Huckabee has disappointing second-place finish in South Carolina
  • Thompson supporters likely to back Romney, analyst says
  • Top Huckabee advisers have left campaign or are forgoing pay
  • Huckabee vows to compete in Florida Republican primary January 29
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(CNN) -- Mike Huckabee is working hard to keep his "scrappy little army" on the march, but with a disappointing second-place finish in South Carolina and in the middle of a resource-draining fight in Florida, the former Arkansas governor is having difficulties keeping his troops moving forward.

Huckabee's inability to turn his under-financed Iowa campaign, backed by a motivated network of evangelicals and home-schoolers, into a broad-based groundswell of support means he is short of campaign cash as he heads into the Florida Republican Primary January 29.

Despite his lack of resources, Huckabee said he is ready to compete in Florida.

"We're there every day," Huckabee told MSNBC on Wednesday. "There are some news reports that are totally false -- I don't know who's fueling them -- that say that we are pulling out of Florida. And that's total nonsense."

"And I think it's just one of those things that we're having to battle back, because we think Florida is in play," Huckabee said. "But we also know there are a whole lot of states out there." Video Watch the GOP battle for Florida »

On the campaign trail, Huckabee said he was comfortable with his position.

"Nobody thought we would even be in the game," Huckabee said Tuesday during an anti-abortion rally in Atlanta, Georgia. "People are talking about us in every national poll at either number one or number two. I'd call that a pretty good momentum for us.

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"Our scrappy little army's doing pretty well out there on the battlefield," he added.

The signs the Huckabee campaign is starting to hurt for resources, however, are beginning to mount.

On Monday, the campaign announced it had grounded a chartered airplane it had provided to members of the press covering him, and Tuesday, Huckabee's campaign chairman Ed Rollins said Huckabee's top advisers are either working without pay or have left the campaign, according to The Associated Press.

"Most people are staying on," Rollins told the AP, but he said "a number of people, including myself," are forgoing their salaries to allow the campaign to buy television advertising.

Huckabee said the cutbacks just mean he is being prudent financially.

"The reason we cut some cost is because we've always operated in the black, we don't borrow money, unlike some of the other candidates who can write a big fat personal check and pay for everything -- I can't," Huckabee said Tuesday. "So what we recognized was that our primary goal right now is to get nimble, to get quick, to get where we can get from place to place as quickly as possible."

"I think a lot of folks would like to see the next president treat the taxpayers' money as frugally as we're treating campaign money," he said.

The departure of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson from the Republican presidential race Tuesday may provide new momentum to Huckabee, but there is no guarantee.

With Thompson out, Huckabee is the only Southerner among the top-tier Republican candidates, but the social conservatives who were drawn to Thompson's advocacy of "traditional" social values are just as likely to back former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has diligently courted social conservatives, as Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher.

"Fred Thompson really made an appeal to social conservatives, and those folks might naturally like Mike Huckabee," said Gloria Borger, CNN senior political analyst. "But Huckabee's campaign is running on fumes right now, and conservatives know it."

"Lots of conservatives are wary of John McCain, so they might look to Mitt Romney, who shares many of their positions on the social issues," she said.

Thompson's decision to leave the race after his third place showing in Saturday's Republican primary in South Carolina may have been too late -- at least for Huckabee. Huckabee's loss to McCain, a senator from Arizona, in South Carolina was due to the social conservative vote being split between him and Thompson.

"It would have been helpful if he had done this before. Now if the rest of them will drop out, we'll really be happy," Huckabee joked Tuesday.

Huckabee stunned the political establishment with his win in the Iowa caucuses in early January, a victory made possible by a surge of support from evangelicals, but he hasn't been able to win a state since.

Besides winning in South Carolina, McCain came out on top in New Hampshire, and Romney has won in Michigan, Nevada and Wyoming.

Huckabee's lack of resources puts him at a disadvantage as he goes head-to-head with his rivals in Florida and the roughly two dozen states holding primaries and caucuses on "Super Tuesday," February 5 -- including large states such as New York, California, Illinois and New Jersey.

While Huckabee supporters hope his message, which mixes conservative social values with economic populism, will spawn another surprise in Florida, the best bet for Huckabee may be for the Republican race to stay jumbled after the Florida primary, when the race moves to the the Super Tuesday contests that include less expensive Southern states such as Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and his home state of Arkansas.

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Regardless of his position, Huckabee continued to motivate his troops.

"I'm in much better shape than some of the candidates who've spent tens of millions of dollars, and they're way behind us," Huckabee said. "I'd much rather be where I am with the amount of resources we've had than where some of these guys are with the kind of resources they've spent." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's John King contributed to this report.

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