Huckabee claims 'authentic conservative' title over Thompson

LITTLE ROCK (AP) - Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee suggested today that fellow Southerner Fred Thompson dodged a scheduled debate because he can't "perform well enough to win."

Thompson declared last night on a late-night talk show. Huckabee spoke to reporters on a conference this morning to discuss Thompson and last night's debate among GOP candidates.

Huckabee called himself an "authentic conservative" and contrasted his experience with Thompson's past.

The former Tennessee senator also worked as a lobbyist for a family planning group that sought to relax an abortion rule.

Huckabee is trying to leverage his second-place finish in an Iowa straw poll last month. He is now among nine candidates seeking the GOP nomination.

Huckabee says Thompson now has to live up to high expectations if he is going to challenge for the nomination.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-09-06-07 1159EDT