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Why a leading tea party group just slammed Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is ending his six-year run as a TV host on Fox News, a decision that will fuel speculation about the Republican’s plans for another White House bid. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) announcement Saturday that he is leaving Fox News as he considers running for president again has regnited an old feud between himself and the conservative Club for Growth -- a spat that dates back nearly a decade.

“In a year in which GOP voters appear likely to have several good pro-economic growth candidates to choose from, Mike Huckabee’s big government record would stand out from the crowd, and not in a good way," said Club for Growth president David McIntosh in a statement Monday.

Huckabee, a strong retail campaigner with a loyal evangelical Christian following, first gained national prominence in 2008 after winning the Iowa caucuses during the GOP presidential primary. Although he ultimately lost the nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain, his weekend TV show on Fox News has expanded his national profile dramatically, if he chooses to run again. (His large name-recognition and support among conservative populists may help him overcome the sorts of fundraising obstacles that plagued his 2008 campaign.)

But, despite those strengths and shared populist sensibilities, the Club for Growth has already staked out a firm position against him and vows to continue pressing him on his conservative bona fides if he formally enters the race.

“As Mike Huckabee weighs the pros and cons of a second presidential candidacy, he should know that the Club for Growth PAC will make sure that Republican primary voters thoroughly examine his exceptionally poor record of raising taxes and spending as governor,” said McIntosh.

Why is the Club, an anti-tax tea group that likes to back tea party candidates, going out of its way to target Huckabee so forcefully?

Huckabee and the Club have a long-standing feud that goes back. Way back. All the way back to 2006 when, as governor, Huckabee signed a minimum wage increase into law. At the time, the Club panned the move, painting Huckabee as a liberal who “seems to think government is better at helping the poor than the free market.” Huckabee dismissed the Club’s attacks, insisting he was in charge of representing his constituents, not submitting to the group’s demands.

“I’m going to try to do the job that I was elected to do and not worry about some label a person is going to put on me,” Huckabee said in response to the group at the time. “If they look at my record over 10-and-a-half years, when I walk out this door, there’s never been a more conservative governor in the history of Arkansas.”

The grudge expanded in 2008 when the Club for Growth went after Huckabee as he sought the GOP nomination, painting him as a proponent of higher taxes and big government.

Huckabee has spoken plainly about his disdain for the group. In a 2013 interview with Politico, he accused the Club of having “utterly misrepresented, distorted and outright lied about my record as governor”

“If you think it’s personal, you are right,” he said. “It’s also the principle of, you don’t go up and beat up the people on your own team. You expect Harry Reid to say crazy things like this … But I don’t expect it, nor do I respect it, when it comes from fellow Republicans.”

Since then, Huckabee has repeatedly made candidate endorsements in direct opposition to the Club's picks. In 2012, for example, Huckabee supported Club-backed candidate Ted Cruz's primary opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. That pitted him against other tea party favorites such as Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin, who stood behind Cruz.

The next year, he put it bluntly: “I kind of have a standing philosophy: If the Club for Growth hates you, I like you,” he said.