One of the key backers of Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign told Newsmax that the former Arkansas governor and Fox television host was "leaning more toward running" for president in 2016 than he has ever been.
"I talked to Gov. Huckabee this morning before his speech, and my family and I had breakfast with him in New York last October. He's definitely leaning more toward running for president in 2016," South Carolina businessman Mike Campbell told Newsmax Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
"And he certainly is more inclined to do it in '16 than he was in '12," when Huckabee explored a second run for president but ultimately decided against it, said Campbell, chairman of Huckabee's near-successful campaign in the 2008 South Carolina Republican presidential primary.
Campbell, son of South Carolina's late Gov. Carroll Campbell, said Huckabee would "definitely" secure the victory in a 2016 primary in the state that narrowly eluded him in 2008 at the hands of John McCain, which was a key to the Arizona senator securing the Republican nomination.
"So many people back home who did not vote for Gov. Huckabee in '08 come up to me and say they will vote for him if he runs next time," said Campbell.
Campbell credits this fresh wave of support for Huckabee to the exposure he receives on his weekly television show on the Fox Network.
"People have seen the Mike Huckabee those who know him have seen, and they like him," he said. "His television show has been very helpful to him in gaining trust from voters in South Carolina and the rest of the country."
Campbell also said Huckabee's personal policy of not engaging in invective against individuals is brought up by potential supporters.
At a press briefing before his speech at CPAC, when asked if he agrees with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's remark that former President Bill Clinton was a sexual predator, Huckabee refused to mention either Paul or Clinton, simply remarking that this was the kind of language that turns voters away from Republicans.
Others who are intrigued by a possible "Huckabee 2.0" candidacy pointed out to Newsmax that the bass-guitar-playing former governor's embrace and knowledge of music and pop culture — unusual among modern GOP presidential candidates — would be a big asset in reaching nontraditional independent voters.
With his Huck PAC committee and campaign appearances for Republican candidates over the past five years, Huckabee has demonstrated he still packs a political wallop.
At least two Republican congressmen — Charles Fleischmann of Tennessee and Richard Hudson of North Carolina — have credited Huckabee's endorsement with helping them secure wins in heated primary battles. And Steve Daines, Huckabee's campaign chairman in Montana in 2008, was elected to the House in 2012 and is now the frontrunner for the seat of outgoing Democratic Sen. Max Baucus.
When Newsmax caught up with Huckabee at CPAC, he brushed off questions about another presidential run and preferred to talk about how his home state of Arkansas has gone from solidly Democratic in 1992 to increasingly Republican in 2014.
Today, three of the state's four U.S. House members and one U.S. senator are Republicans and the GOP controls both houses of the state Legislature.
"And now it looks like [former GOP Rep.] Asa Hutchinson is going to make it for governor," Huckabee said.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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