ATLANTA (AP) — Mike Huckabee, the preacher turned politician turned media personality, is entering the 2016 Republican presidential nomination race. Some key things to know about him:
A Southern Baptist, multi-term Arkansas governor who was born in a town called Hope, plays a musical instrument and captivates audiences as an affable, engaging speaker? That's not just Bill Clinton, saxophone-playing Democrat. It's also Huckabee, bass-guitar-playing Republican, evangelical, foreign policy hawk, advocate of a national consumption tax, and second-time White House hopeful. In 2008, coming off a decade in the governor's mansion, Huckabee won eight primaries in states heavily influenced by social conservatives, but he couldn't keep up with eventual nominee John McCain. He told the AP this year that, this time, "running for president for me would not be about speaking on cultural issues," but rather about the economy and national security. Yet he continues to grab headlines almost exclusively with commentary on the same matters — specifically same-sex marriage — that he said he'd put third in this campaign. He's 59.
An ordained Baptist minister, Huckabee got his start in politics before he left the pulpit, winning election as Arkansas Baptist Convention president in 1989. He lost his first bid for public office, a U.S. Senate campaign in 1992. But Clinton's presidential victory that November gave Huckabee a break: Then-Lt. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker became governor when Clinton moved to the White House and Huckabee won a special election for the No. 2 post. Three years later, he ascended to the governor's office when Tucker was convicted on corruption charges. Huckabee won two full terms, serving 10½ years and a stint as National Governors Association chairman. Since 2008, Huckabee has released multiple books and hosted a Fox News TV show. He still hosts "The Huckabee Report" on ABC Radio.
Huckabee's multifaceted public life was forged in a small-town, working-class household. His mother was an office clerk, his father a firefighter and mechanic; both were old-guard Southern Democrats. A young Michael Dale Huckabee found solace in church, learning to play the guitar at age 11 and delivering his first sermon a few years later. At 14, he landed a job reading the news and weather for a local radio station. He was the first male in his family to graduate from high school. Huckabee holds a bachelor's degree in religion and attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, but did not finish. Huckabee and his wife, Janet, married in 1974. They have three adult children and four grandchildren. Huckabee shed more than 100 pounds on a progression from obesity to marathon-running fitness, and wrote "Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork" in 2005. But he's struggled to keep the weight off.
"CALLING CARD" MOMENT
So far in this campaign, Huckabee stands apart from most rivals in squarely taking on gay-rights advocates. He's criticized the "militant gay community" and its opposition to "religious liberty" laws in Indiana and Arkansas. "It won't stop," Huckabee said, "until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I'm talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God's truth." His record as governor is complex: He both cut and raised taxes, and issued more criminal pardons and sentence commutations than his three predecessors (including Clinton) combined.
EARLY STATE ACTION
Huckabee's latest book tour has taken him all across the country and he's made several appearances in Iowa, where he won in 2008. He's got a natural connection with the religious conservatives who dominate the Iowa caucuses.
Huckabee has written a shelf full of books, mixing autobiography and public policy, while penning recommendations on healthy living and even a children's Christmas story. In his latest effort, "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy," he describes an urban-rural divide in the U.S. — "Bubbaville" vs. "Bubbleville" — that dovetails with his campaign pitch.
ONLINE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
pagpac.weebly.com (super PAC)
www.AmericaTakesAction.com (nonprofit political organization)
Twitter: twitter.com/govmikehuckabee (official) and twitter.com/huckabeeshow (archived)