Huckabee makes presidential bid

Times Staff Writer

Mike Huckabee, a conservative former governor from the largely Democratic state of Arkansas, will launch his bid today for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, opening an exploratory committee to raise money.

Acknowledging that he would be a hard sell against better-known conservative candidates for the White House, Huckabee said Sunday that “America loves an underdog.”

He also pointed to his ability as a two-term governor to please liberals, noting that he raised taxes for education and poverty programs.

But before a national audience, as Huckabee sets out Tuesday and Wednesday to campaign in the early caucus state of Iowa, his staunch opposition to abortion and gay marriage could make it difficult for him to attract moderate voters.

Nevertheless, the 51-year-old Huckabee, the first male in his family to make it through high school, hopes the public will view him as a self-made man against a slate of other presidential candidates -- both Republican and Democratic -- whom he characterized as wealthy, well-known and convinced they had a right to the White House.


“One of the reasons I’m running for president is because I think America needs folks who understand what it is to start at the bottom of the ladder and climb their way to the top,” he said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’ve got a lot of people who are born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple.”

Huckabee’s long support of President Bush and the war in Iraq also could prove troublesome to his campaign.

In the interview Sunday, he called it a “dangerous position” to oppose President Bush on the war, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is now doing in pushing a nonbinding resolution decrying the president’s plan to increase troop levels.

“We’ve got people being shot at on the ground,” Huckabee said. “It’s one thing to have a debate and a discussion about this strategy. But to openly oppose, in essence, the strategy, I think that can be a very risky thing for our troops.”

He said he would not propose or support new taxes as president, unless “we’re in a situation where we are in a different level of war, where there is no other option.”

Most recent polls on the race for the GOP nomination put former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in the lead -- although he has not declared his candidacy -- with Sen. John McCain of Arizona close behind. Huckabee is well back in the field of potential candidates, with just 1% of the respondents in most polls.

Huckabee’s conservative views are similar to those of Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, who is also in the race.

To succeed in the election contests, Huckabee will have to set himself apart to the GOP wing that includes the religious right. A devout Christian and ordained Baptist minister, he said Sunday, “I make no apology for my faith. My faith explains me.”

He was born in Hope, Ark., also the hometown of President Clinton, and was a minister and lieutenant governor before he replaced a governor who resigned in 1996.

Huckabee, who won his gubernatorial terms in landslides, pushed tax increases for schools and new state insurance programs for poor children. He left office this month. Huckabee may be best known nationally for his efforts to promote health and for his own dramatic 110-pound weight loss.