But where he was the scrappy underdog with the fresh face in 2008, the former Baptist preacher faced a different set of challenges this time around, joining a crowded field of Republican contenders – including some with similar appeal to evangelicals.
He also counted on attracting working-class traditionalists wary of the influence of big money in politics, and vowed to preserve Social Security and other bedrock assistance programs.
“I don’t come from a family dynasty but a working family,” Huckabee told a cheering crowd last May when he launched his campaign in his hometown of Hope, Ark., in a clear dig at likely GOP candidate Jeb Bush. “I grew up blue-collar, not blue-blood.”
During his decade as governor, Huckabee racked up an impressive record getting legislation through an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Among his achievements were expanding health coverage for children and revamping the state’s education system.
In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the five most effective governors in the country and Governing magazine dubbed him one of its “public officials of the year.”
The Arkansas governor also gained national attention when he lost 110 pounds after diabetes was diagnosed in 2002.
Huckabee collected some formidable enemies along the way, including conservative organizations such as the anti-tax Club for Growth, which deemed his gubernatorial record too liberal.
After winning the Iowa caucuses in 2008, Huckabee struggled to expand his reach beyond evangelicals before running out of money. The same challenge dogged his candidacy this time around, as he faced a stronger field.
He – and Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012 -- also faced more competition than in the past for the conservative Christian voters who fueled their upset victories there. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) made reaching those voters a core campaign strategy. Billionaire Donald Trump also drew unexpected support from that key voting bloc. And Huckabee’s campaign never caught fire.
Jose A. DelReal contributed to this report