By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 29, 2007
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee yesterday announced plans to form a presidential exploratory committee, hoping to carve out a conservative niche in an increasingly crowded field of Republican candidates.
The onetime Southern Baptist minister, perhaps best known for losing 100 pounds in two years, said he will file papers with the Federal Election Commission today, which will enable him to start raising money.
"I think America needs positive optimistic leadership to kind of turn this country around, to see a revival of our national soul," Huckabee said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Huckabee enters the race as a long shot, boasting little national name recognition and up against such high-profile and well-funded Republican candidates as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. But, like Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Huckabee is trusting that the GOP's traditional base is not content with the current leaders in the race and that there might be room for a staunch conservative who is antiabortion and opposed to same-sex marriage.
Huckabee, 51, said yesterday that he supports President Bush's position on the Iraq war, and he discussed his record in Arkansas, which was not always predictable. He was an advocate for providing state services for illegal immigrants, opened up insurance benefits for 70,000 children from low-income homes and was criticized by fiscal conservatives for raising taxes several times.
He also publicly supported creationism, a philosophy advocated by fervent Christians, arguing that students should be exposed to the study of the doctrine as well as evolution.
When moderator Tim Russert pressed Huckabee on whether he would lead the United States to be a more Christian nation, he replied: "We are a nation of faith. It doesn't necessarily have to be mine."
"I make no apology for my faith," he said. "My faith explains me."
Huckabee was Arkansas lieutenant governor in 1996 when Democratic Gov. Jim Guy Tucker was convicted of conspiracy and mail fraud relating to the Whitewater scandal. He rose to governor when Tucker resigned and was subsequently elected by large margins for two more terms in the historically Democratic state.
The former governor shares his birthplace with another governor of Arkansas who ran for president, Bill Clinton. Both men were born in the small town of Hope.
Huckabee started his professional life as an ordained minister. He served at several churches in Arkansas and once presided over the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, launching his political career shortly thereafter.
As Arkansas governor, Huckabee admitted to weighing 300 pounds. After being diagnosed with diabetes in 2003, he went on a public diet and started competing in marathons. He lost more than 100 pounds and penned a diet book about the experience, "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork."
Huckabee, who also spoke yesterday at the Conservative Summit in Washington, said he planned to be in Iowa, home of the first 2008 caucuses, tomorrow and Wednesday.
"America loves an underdog," Huckabee said. "America loves people who have had to struggle and for whom every rung of the ladder has been sometimes three rungs up and two back down."