Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Monday took the first step toward a 2008 presidential bid, dismissing concerns that he faces a long-shot campaign against a field of well-funded Republican challengers.
Huckabee filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to form an exploratory committee, a day after announcing his intention to do so. Huckabee told reporters in Little Rock that he decided to take the first step now in order to solidify support from activists in key states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
"Quite frankly, many of them were reluctant to make a commitment to me if I weren't ready to make a commitment to the race," Huckabee said. "With all those things whirling about, it made sense."
Huckabee acknowledged that he faces better-funded Republican hopefuls such as Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but said he doesn't think money will be the deciding factor in the race.
"If we're only going to have a campaign that is nothing but one that goes to the highest bidder, we might as well put the presidency on e-Bay," Huckabee told reporters at a news conference in downtown Little Rock.
Huckabee said he plans to open his exploratory committee's headquarters in Little Rock and said he'll be announcing in the coming days the top staff for his campaign. Huckabee told reporters it's not a definite thing that he will end up running for president, but said the committee is a first step.
"If in the next...month to six weeks I get no checks and no return engagements to speak when I go to Iowa and New Hampshire, and nobody signs up to volunteer, we may have another one of these meetings here in about six weeks and I'll say 'Thank you very much and go on with your lives," Huckabee said. "But I don't expect that to happen."
Huckabee plans to travel to Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday and will be in Florida later this week.
Huckabee, 51, is a southern Baptist minister who served as Arkansas governor for 10 1/2 years. Barred from re-election by term limits, he left office Jan. 9 and has been traveling the country promoting a book touting his various policy proposals.
An avid runner, Huckabee gained notice in recent years by losing more than 110 pounds after he was diagnosed with diabetes. Huckabee hails from Hope, the same hometown of the state's favorite political son, former President Clinton.
Though he's raised taxes in his home state to pay for education improvements, Huckabee defended his record as a fiscal conservative and said he supports a flat income tax.
"I like to call it a more finite and family friendly," Huckabee said. "It's proportionate...Conceptually, I think the flat tax is a much better way for us to assess taxes."
Huckabee told reporters that he plans to focus on what he called "dinner table issues" such as health care and job security.
"I think people are talking not so much about the terror at the borders and the terror of the Middle East as they are about the terror of what happens if dad loses his job?" Huckabee said. "I think they're talking about the terror of if their 8-year-old breaks their arm on the school playground and can't afford to get to the doctor to get it fixed."