WASHINGTON – Conservative Republican Mike Huckabee, seeking to repeat the success of another former governor from Hope, Ark., said Sunday he is taking the first step in what he acknowledged is an underdog bid for the White House in 2008.
"I think this is an opportunity to show the American dream is still alive and there's hope and optimism that can be awakened in a lot of people's lives if they think that a person like me can run and actually become president," Huckabee told The Associated Press
The 51-year-old Huckabee, who took over as governor at the height of Bill Clinton's Whitewater scandal, comes from the same small town — Hope — in the same rural state as the former Democratic president.
Huckabee, who left office Jan. 9 after serving 10 1/2 years as governor of a Democratic-leaning state, faces steep odds in a crowded GOP field that includes well-known and well-funded hopefuls such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
"One of the reasons that I'm running for president is because I think that America needs folks who understand what it is to start at the bottom of the ladder and climb their way to the top," Huckabee said in a broadcast interview. "We've got a lot of people who are born on third base and think they've hit a triple.
"America loves an underdog. America loves people who have had to struggle and for whom every rung of the ladder has been sometimes three rungs up and two back down, Thank God for the one you've gained, and keep climbing," Huckabee said.
He planned to travel to Iowa, an early nominating state, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Huckabee is setting up an exploratory committee that will allow him to raise money and hire campaign staff in an effort to gauge his prospects.
Huckabee is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and gay marriage, but faces a tough fight from other conservatives in the field for support from the GOP's right flank. This is an important voting bloc in the nominating contests.
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a favorite son of the religious right, is already in the race. Other conservatives, such as California Rep. Duncan Hunter and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, will battle for their share of the vote.
While Arkansas is a predominantly Democratic state, Huckabee won two full terms in landslides. He championed tax increases for public schools, expanded state insurance programs for the children of the working poor and opposed banning state services for illegal immigrants.
Nationally, Huckabee is perhaps best known for his dramatic weight loss and his emphasis on healthy lifestyles. He shed 110 pounds after being diagnosed with diabetes. He also saw his political profile rise when he headed the National Governors Association for one term.
Since he left office, Huckabee has been on a nationwide tour to tout his book, "From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 Stops to Restoring America's Greatness." With chapters on taxes and foreign policy, Huckabee's book lays out his potential talking points for a presidential campaign.
Huckabee appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC.