- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of three former governors in attendance at Asa Hutchinson’s swearing-in Tuesday, said the state’s new chief executive hit “the right tone and the right notes” in his first remarks.

As the buzz grows that Huckabee will run for president a second time, he received the loudest ovation of any of the former officials introduced to the crowd outside the state Capitol.

Huckabee predicted Hutchinson would make a “terrific governor,” with creating new jobs his primary focus.

“He set the table to work with the Legislature. He did that very effectively today,” Huckabee said. “The big priority is getting jobs and economic development, and he’s been very clear in his campaign, very clear now in his administration, this is his focus.”

Huckabee responded in only general terms to reports that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney - who competed against him in a 2008 Republican primary that was often bitter and personal - is considering a third run. Huckabee said of Romney, “He’s a good guy, and I wish he’d have won the last time.”

“Everybody has the right to run if they want to,” he said. “Anybody who decides to jump into this, you know, that’s what makes America a great country. You don’t have to get the approval of anyone else in order to do it.”

Also in attendance Tuesday were former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and former governor and senator David Pryor, both Democrats.

Tucker said he was encouraged by what he heard from Hutchinson.

“You never know until the details come, but I think Asa’s not interested in having fights,” Tucker said. “He’s interested in trying to have good progress on these issues.”

Pryor said the appeal to find common ground was the right theme after a heated election. Pryor’s son Mark was defeated in his bid for a third term to the U.S. Senate by Republican challenger Tom Cotton in the November election.

“Days like this, this is a good time to heal and I think that was part of his message that came through to me today,” Pryor said. “I enjoyed it. I thought it was good, and I applaud him or it. I think he did a very, very good job in appealing to our best instincts.”

Democrat Mike Beebe, whose term as governor ended Tuesday, did not attend the ceremony. A spokesman said Beebe wanted to keep a low profile for Hutchinson’s day of celebration.

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Follow Nomaan Merchant on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant.

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