MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Republican Mike Huckabee said the government should stay out of disputes over the Confederate flag in South Carolina.
"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, told supporters Thursday in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole, that's what we'd do," Huckabee said.
Arkansas' flag includes four stars surrounding the word "Arkansas" _ one above it and three below it. The one above stands for the Confederacy, according to the state code.
He would not say whether he considers it offensive to fly the flag, a symbol of racism to some and Southern pride to others, saying only that the matter should be up to the states. That was the position of his rival John McCain when he ran for president in 2000; after losing, McCain said he had not been honest about his feelings and that the flag should go.
Pressed later on whether he finds the flag offensive, Huckabee refused to give an opinion.
"It's really not something that is an issue for the president of the United States; that's an issue South Carolina would deal with," Huckabee said at a news conference in Columbia, S.C.
Ironically, Huckabee is barnstorming South Carolina with former Gov. David Beasley, who angered conservative Republicans by calling for the flag's removal from the Statehouse dome. Today, the flag is displayed elsewhere on the state Capitol grounds.
Earlier Thursday, Huckabee assailed political insiders who blew opportunities to fix Washington, a subtle dig at rivals McCain and Fred Thompson.
Huckabee did not name names as he campaigned at a steel plant in Huger, S.C., but it was clear he meant McCain and Thompson, a current and former senator, respectively, who are competing against him in South Carolina's primary Saturday.
"Everyday, some Washington insider is coming down to South Carolina telling you not to vote for me," Huckabee told about 125 people at the Nucor Steel Berkeley plant. "My attitude is, if they were going to fix it, they should have already done it. Since they haven't, the last thing we need is them going to the White House."
Associated Press writer Kelly Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.