"I'm probably one of the few candidates you have ever seen that has the recommendation of (a National Education Association) chapter, but also has the strong national recommendation of homeschoolers," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told me in an interview.
This unusual polarity points simultaneously to Huckabee's greatest strength and potential weakness as a Republican presidential candidate.
Among viable candidates, Huckabee is the strongest on the most important social issues, abortion and marriage, which helps explain his appeal to the culturally conservative families represented by Home School Legal Defense Association Chairman Mike Farris, who personally endorsed Huckabee.
Unlike former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Huckabee has always been pro-life and has never pandered to the gay-rights movement. Nor does he oppose a federal marriage amendment or favor federal funding for embryo-killing research, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona does.
However, while Huckabee's eloquence reminds some of Ronald Reagan, aspects of his gubernatorial record have led many conservatives to fear he would perpetuate one of the worst features of the Bush administration: Its embrace of big government.
My interview with Huckabee focused solely on education. The full transcript and audio are available at CNSNews.com. Here are some highlights.
When I asked Huckabee to point to language in the Constitution that authorizes a Department of Education or federal involvement in primary and secondary education, he said he does not believe the federal government has much more than a cheerleading role in this area. "I don't think there is really a federal role or responsibility, constitutionally, in education," he said. "I think education is a local function. It should be a state function. I have always believed that, and I still believe it. I think if there's a role, it is to encourage, it's to recognize the value and importance."
Nonetheless, he does not believe the Department of Education itself is unconstitutional. "I don't know if you can say that having the department is unconstitutional," he said. "I think having a mandate where you insist on exactly what education looks like at the local level would be unconstitutional. That's the difference."