- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee yesterday made it official — sort of. He is “seriously” preparing a run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

He will devote full time to the task, however, only after he finishes his last full term this year by rebating to taxpayers a large part of the $600 million budget surplus that he expects the state to ring up come July.

“I want to finish my term with a bang, not a whimper,” Mr. Huckabee, 50, told reporters over a luncheon in a meeting room next to office space his administration rents on Capitol Hill.

The nation’s longest-serving governor — Mr. Huckabee moved up from lieutenant governor in July 1996 after the resignation of Gov. Jim Guy Tucker — said he is talking this early and this frankly about 2008 because he wants to be “candid” with people.

He acknowledged that his biggest impediment may be raising the millions of dollars required for a presidential campaign — a task made particularly formidable for someone from a small state.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, raised more than $317 million for the contest he lost to President Bush, who raised $360 million.

Mr. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, said he wouldn’t mind being tagged in a presidential run as a “populist.”

“I have more in common with the people working in the kitchen than with those sitting at the head table,” he said.

The governor described himself as a conservative who welcomes immigrants, cares about the poor, respects the environment and thinks twice before committing the U.S. military to armed intervention abroad. But he also said the question of whether the Bush administration should have invaded and occupied Iraq should be left to historians to answer.

Mr. Huckabee said he approved of virtually everything in the Monday night speech on immigration by Mr. Bush, including his National Guard and guest-worker initiatives, even though that agreement put Mr. Huckabee at odds, he said, with some fellow conservative Republicans.

“I do believe some of it is driven by racism or nativism,” he said of the opposition within his party to Mr. Bush’s view that illegal aliens should not be deported but rather fined and eventually allowed U.S. citizenship.

“It’s not amnesty to make people pay for breaking the law,” Mr. Huckabee said.

As president, he said, he would have no problem working on common goals with fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton — or with other Democrats for that matter.

Mr. Huckabee said he probably will not accept public financing of his presidential nomination campaign. If he wins, he said, he probably will follow Mr. Bush’s 2004 election campaign example and not accept public financing in the general election either, thus freeing himself from restraints on fundraising and spending that go along with public financing.

On the environment, he said: “We have done more to abuse than use the planet.” He added that it’s better for Americans “to act as if global warming” is a scientific fact because there is “no downside in conserving our resources.”

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