HOPE, Arkansas — Republican Mike Huckabee announced a run for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination Tuesday with a fiery, populist speech aimed at energizing support from the Christian right and blue-collar Americans struggling to make ends meet.
The 59-year-old former Arkansas governor and former host of a popular Fox News television show is a long shot in the widening race to represent the Republican Party in the November 2016 election. Huckabee is the sixth Republican to make a formal bid.
The former Southern Baptist pastor rode support from social conservatives opposing abortion rights and gay marriage to an early surprise victory in the 2008 White House race. Huckabee will again face competition for those voters.
He said that, if elected, he would change government policies to focus more on working-class Americans.
“I don’t come from a family dynasty, but a working family. I grew up blue-collar, not blue blood,” he said, in an apparent reference to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Huckabee chose to announce his bid in the small town of Hope, which both he and former Democratic President Bill Clinton call their hometown.
At a community college where the event was held, audience members chanted, “We like Mike!”
Huckabee spoke of his life in Hope, recalling daily prayers, fishing and hunting. He met his wife at the high school they attended.
The candidate said hard-working Americans are being left behind in today’s economy, and blamed Democratic President Barack Obama for U.S. economic woes.
“Ninety-three million Americans don’t have jobs,” Huckabee said. “And many of them who do have seen their full-time job with benefits they once had become two part-time jobs with no benefits at all.
“We were promised hope, but it was just talk,” he said, referring to a major theme of Obama’s successful 2008 presidential bid.
Huckabee reiterated his long-held opposition to abortion and gay marriage, deeply held concerns for evangelical Christians and other social conservatives. In recent years, they have seen same-sex marriage gain wider support and win legalization in an increasing number of states.
“We’ve lost our way, morally,” Huckabee said, referring to abortion as “slaughter” and to “the biblical principles of natural marriage.”
Huckabee became a national figure in 2008 by staging an upset win in Iowa’s kickoff presidential nominating contest.
This time around, he has competition for social conservative votes such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Polls show Huckabee’s support among Republican voters is in the single digits.
Huckabee was also tough on Islamic State, saying he would change the U.S. approach from attempting to contain the militant group and instead would “conquer” it.
“We will deal with jihadis just as we would deal with deadly snakes,” he said.
Huckabee vowed strong U.S. support for Israel and took a dim view of international negotiations aimed at keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The negotiations between Iran, the United States and other countries have become a bone of contention in the Senate.
Said Huckabee, “Hell will freeze over before they get a nuclear weapon.”
In addition to Huckabee and Cruz, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are seeking the Republican nomination.