Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a favorite of conservatives, will take the first step in a 2008 presidential bid, an official told The Associated Press on Friday.

Huckabee, 51, plans to file papers on Monday establishing an exploratory committee that will allow him to raise money and hire campaign staff, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting a formal announcement.

Huckabee faces difficult odds as he enters a crowded Republican field topped by better-known, better-funded candidates such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

All three have spent the last few months building their national campaign organizations, courting fundraisers and lining up grass-roots supporters in primary and caucus states. However, they also have records or positions on social or fiscal issues that don't sit well with conservative voters — and that could give Huckabee an opening.

"My brand of conservatism is not an angry hostile brand. It's one that says 'conservative' means we want to conserve the best of our culture, society, principles and values and pass them on," he said last month.