Monday, January 29, 2007

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced yesterday he will explore a run for president, becoming the fourth former governor on the Republican side to join the race and one of the few potential candidates who can unquestionably claim social-conservative credentials.

Mr. Huckabee, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” announced his intention to file exploratory-committee papers today, saying he wanted to bring about a “revival of our national soul.”

“America needs folks who understand what it is to start at the bottom of the ladder and climb their way to the top,” said the ordained Baptist minister, who said he grew up poor and was the first male in his family to graduate from high school.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are going on third base and think they’ve hit a triple,” he said. “America loves an underdog. America loves people who have had to struggle and for whom every rung of the ladder has been sometimes three rungs up and two back down.”

Mr. Huckabee will be in Iowa tomorrow to begin campaigning for the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

He hopes to become the second president from Hope, Ark., following in the footsteps of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Mr. Clinton’s wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, is exploring a run for the presidency from the Democratic side.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Huckabee said his experience during more than 10 years as governor gives him a leg up and said he established a record in Arkansas on education, highway spending, health care, conservation and economic development — concrete accomplishments he can stack up against the other candidates.

Mr. Huckabee brings a convert’s zeal to the health issue, having lost more than 100 pounds in recent years and leading a statewide weight-loss crusade in Arkansas. He also says he is a conservative who can talk about conservation and education reform, such as preserving music and art in the curriculum.

“Those are things you rarely hear Republicans focus on,” he said.

That robust pro-government role is coupled with a staunchly pro-life stance. But he has had an ongoing feud with fiscal conservatives, who criticize him for tax increases enacted during his time in office.

The Republican field now includes Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

Mr. McCain is the apparent front-runner, but Mr. Huckabee said he thinks the senator will have problems with conservatives who dominate the primary process.

“He’s a great American hero, but I do think that there are going to be some challenges that he’ll face, and some of them have to do with issues that really have alienated many conservatives,” Mr. Huckabee said on NBC.

Asked to embrace President Bush, as he has done in the past, Mr. Huckabee was more circumspect this time, saying, “He’s had a lot of struggles, particularly in managing the war in Iraq.” He added Mr. Bush has “ignored and overlooked” the domestic side as well.

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