Mike Huckabee mulls 2016, meets Iowa, S.C. groups

CNN
Saturday, December 14, 2013 - 4:19pm

Mike Huckabee appears to be thinking of doing in 2016 what he didn't do in 2012: Make another bid for the White House.

The pastor, former Arkansas governor, and 2008 Republican presidential candidate, who ran a strong second in the primaries and caucuses to eventual GOP nominee Sen. John McCain, is starting to talk like someone who is contemplating another national run.

It's different language than what we heard from Huckabee prior to the 2012 election cycle.

"It's a different tone and tenure this time than four years ago," said Hogan Gidley, a close adviser and friend who's worked for Huckabee in one position or another on and off for 15 years. "This is more of a 'I'm seriously taking a look at it' tone than four years ago."

Gidley told CNN several groups from the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina have come to meet with Huckabee recently.

And not just social conservatives, with whom the former minister has always enjoyed strong support, but also business leaders, many of whom were suspicious of Huckabee during his 2008 run.

In an interview with the Washington Post Thursday, Huckabee said he's receiving encouragement to launch another campaign "from places where I never got it before," including "business, people some would maybe call the establishment."

On whether he'll run: "I'm keeping the door open," Huckabee said in a separate interview with the New York Times, adding: "I think right now, the focus needs to be on 2014. But I'm mindful of the fact that there's a real opportunity for me."

Huckabee gave his interviews on the same night he was the main attraction at an event in Little Rock by the American Renewal Project, which encourages evangelical pastors to become more involved in political action. After the event, CNN's confirmed that Huckabee met with pastors from both Iowa and South Carolina.

Earlier Thursday Huckabee signed off for the last time from his nationally syndicated radio program. Some political observers see Huckabee's dropping of his radio show as a signal that he's starting to position himself for a 2016 run.

Near the end of his radio show, Huckabee seemed to give a tease, saying of his future that "I'll continue to make speeches, traveling all over the country, campaigning for people, doing a whole lot of things. I'll continue to write, and well, there are other things on the horizon as well."

Huckabee will continue to host a weekend TV program on the Fox News Channel.

He came in a surprise second in the 2007 Iowa GOP straw poll, and then won the state's caucuses the following January, propelling his campaign.

He continued to win a number of states, mostly in the South, but short of funds and organization, he wasn't able to compete with McCain's much larger and well-financed campaign.

Huckabee passed on 2012, believing President Barack Obama could not be defeated. But he has also admitted that the financial comfort he had earned though his media appearances and speeches was a contributing factor in not running.

If he launches another campaign, Huckabee says his populist approach would be among his best assets.

"If Republicans want to win, they've got to go get a portion of the population they've missed the last two election cycles, particularly working-class people and minorities who have not thought there was a message for them," Huckabee told the New York Times. 

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