Mike Huckabee knows what it's like to win Southern states in a GOP primary. But the former Arkansas governor also knows just how crucial the earlier states are if a candidate is to still be in the game by the time they roll around.
"You don't get to the Final Four in the NCAA basketball tournament if you don't win the early ballgames," said Huckabee, who is trying to recapture his 2008 magic eight years later.
Huckabee was responding to a reporter's question about Sen. Ted Cruz's recent statement that he sees the so-called "SEC primary" as "a firewall" for his campaign. He recalled the fate of another candidate from the 2008 race who thought he could sit out the early states and flip the on-switch to his campaign in Florida: Rudy Giuliani.
"He didn't win any of the early primary states, and by the time we got to Florida he was no longer a (serious) candidate," Huckabee said. "At some point, you have to start winning some primaries. Whether it's the first one, two, three states, you've got to win an early state."
Huckabee outlined his own plan, which sounds a lot like his tally of states won eight years ago: "Our strategy is we feel like we have to do well in Iowa, South Carolina and the SEC primary."
That may not end up differing substantially from the route Cruz attempts, but it is a reminder the SEC primary will matter most to those candidates who have already proven something elsewhere.