By BILL BARROW
HOPE, Ark. (AP) – Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is preparing another bid for the Republican presidential nomination, eight years after his first efforts to expand on the support of evangelical Christians helped him win eight states in the 2008 primaries.
The ordained Baptist minister turned politician returns Tuesday to his hometown of Hope, Arkansas – the same small town where former President Bill Clinton was born – to make official what the local newspaper called “the worst kept secret” in the state.
In a strategy aimed at working-class cultural conservatives, Huckabee and his aides say his second run would pitch the candidate as an economic populist and foreign affairs hawk who holds deeply conservative views on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Huckabee, 59, also plans to pitch that he is the best Republican to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination who spent more than a decade as first lady of Arkansas. In a recent campaign video, Huckabee argued that in his more than 10 years as governor, he took on Democrats in “Bill Clinton’s Arkansas” after candidate Bill Clinton won election to the White House in 1992.
“Every day in my life in politics was a fight,” Huckabee says in the video, released as a preview of his Tuesday announcement. “But any drunken redneck can walk into a bar and start a fight. A leader only starts a fight he’s prepared to finish.”
Huckabee advocates a national consumption tax, which is similar to a sales tax, to replace the existing federal taxes on personal income and payrolls. He rejects calls for a minimum wage hike, saying his proposals will yield a “maximum wage” for workers.
On immigration, he insists on a secure border and bemoans the presence of millions of people who are living in the country illegally, though he favors a creating a path to citizenship for children of immigrant parents who brought them to the U.S. illegally.
Like other Republican White House hopefuls, Huckabee is sharply critical of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. He has called for “bombing the daylights” out of Islamic State targets in the Middle East, though he says American troops should be deployed to the region only as part of an international coalition that includes nations such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
But whatever the issue, Huckabee – an author and former Fox News host – wraps his appeal as a pitch to everyday Americans who he says “don’t feel like anybody understands or knows who they are, much less cares what’s happening to them.”
“One thing that has to happen in America is moving the power away from Washington, where people are so disconnected from the way that so many ordinary Americans live,” Huckabee says in another recent video.
Huckabee’s potential strength among the growing number of Republican candidates rests with cultural conservatives who wield strong influence in the party’s nominating process.
Evangelical Christian voters helped Huckabee win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and finish a strong second in South Carolina, the largest of the early-voting states. Huckabee would need to replicate that early success to create an opening to build a wider coalition and compete deep into the primary schedule.
Huckabee is the third major Republican to enter the race this week. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former technology executive Carly Fiorina launched their campaigns Monday.
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