PITTSBURGH--Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) told thousands of members of the National Rifle Association Saturday night that social issues should not take a back seat to the economy in the national political debate, but he offered no hints about whether he might run for president and push such issues.
In a keynote address to thousands of an estimated 70,000 NRA members attending the group’s annual convention, Huckabee laid out a case for a renewed focus on social issues that could foreshadow how he might approach a run for the Republican nomination in 2012.
He argued paying for social services to help children who have grown up without fathers is a drain on the economy and has helped increase government spending.
“When I hear people say the issues of family and marriage don’t really matter because we need to focus on the economy, I agree,” he said. “We ought to focus on the economy. But let’s focus on an economy that is robbing us as taxpayers blind because we have a lot of men who have irresponsibly abandoned their wives and their children and left the rest of us as taxpayers with the cost of doing what dads ought to properly do. It is an economic issue.”
The message stands in contrast to an assertion by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), also considering a presidential run, who has argued that Republicans should offer a “truce” on social issues that have divided the party and at times alienated independent voters.
Huckabee supporters have been knocking down rumors in recent days that he has decided not to enter the race. Some suggest he actually has become more serious about a run.
But despite a smattering of supporters outside the massive Consul Energy Center in Pittsburgh handing out bright yellow fliers promising “The Decision--Coming Summer 2011,” Huckabee did not mention the presidential race in his 28-minute-long address.
Instead, he gave a withering critique of President Obama’s leadership, arguing a second Obama term could threaten gun rights and lead to a reliance on government that could undermine the nation’s future stability.
And he offered an anecdote that seemingly compared silence in the face of mounting debt in modern America to those who said nothing about the rise of the Nazis.
He recalled a family trip years ago to a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. He said he was comforted when his young daughter, at the end of the tour, wrote unbidden in the guest book: “Why didn’t anybody do something?”
“Let there never be a time in this country when some father has to look over his daughter’s shoulder and see her ask the haunting question, ‘why didn’t somebody do something?’” he said. “In this room, we are the somebodies and we commit we will do something to preserve this great American heritage.”
Potential Republican candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, John Bolton and businessman Herman Cain all also gave shorter afternoon addresses to the crowd, while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn) sent videos to be played to the crowd.
But Huckabee, who has talked extensively of learning to hunt as a child, won special favor with the pro-gun crowd.
“He’s a man with values--the same values that we have,” said Rick Findley, a retired postal worker from Ohio. “He should get in.”