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Mike Huckabee launches bid for 2016 Republican presidential nomination

Republican Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor and unabashed culture warrior, entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, facing competition for the support of social conservatives who backed him in 2008.

Considered a long shot in a field of seasoned Republican candidates

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee waves to supporters on Tuesday in Hope, Ark., after announcing that he is running for the Republican presidential nomination. (Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday, an underdog joining a crowded field of White House hopefuls.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister turned politician, would be the third Republican to enter the race this week. Two political outsiders, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a black conservative, launched their presidential campaigns on Monday.

Huckabee returned Tuesday to his hometown of Hope, Ark., the same small town where former president Bill Clinton was born, to make official what the local newspaper called "the worst kept secret" in the state.

He told his supporters at the Hope rally: "It would be perfectly fitting that I would announce here that I am a candidate for president of the United States."

Considered a long shot

This time Huckabee hopes to expand on the support of evangelical Christians who helped him win eight states in the 2008 primary campaign which he eventually lost to Senator John McCain. But he is considered a long shot in a field that already includes several seasoned politicians such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are expected to launch their bids soon.

Yet while those prospects have claimed much of the early attention and favour from donors, the Republican race is a wide-open contest that could ultimately feature more than 20 major candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, holds a commanding lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. Her only declared opponent so far is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running to the left of Clinton.

Fiorina and Clinton are bidding to become the first female U.S. president, while Cruz and Rubio, both Cuban-American, are vying to become the first Hispanic president.

Deeply conservative views

In a strategy aimed at working-class cultural conservatives, Huckabee and his aides say his second run would pitch the candidate as an economic populist and foreign affairs hawk who holds deeply conservative views on social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Huckabee, 59, also plans to pitch that he is the best Republican to take on Clinton, a former Arkansas first lady. In a recent campaign video, Huckabee argued that in his more than 10 years as governor, he took on Democrats in "Bill Clinton's Arkansas" after candidate Bill Clinton won election to the White House in 1992.

Huckabee advocates a national consumption tax, which is similar to a sales tax, to replace the existing federal taxes on personal income and payrolls. He rejects calls for a minimum wage hike, saying his proposals will yield a "maximum wage" for workers.

On immigration, he insists on a secure border and bemoans the presence of millions of people who are living in the country illegally, though he favours creating a path to citizenship for children of immigrant parents who brought them to the U.S. illegally.

Former Fox News host

Like other Republican White House hopefuls, Huckabee is sharply critical of President Barack Obama's foreign policy. He has called for "bombing the daylights" out of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in the Middle East, though he says American troops should be deployed to the region only as part of an international coalition that includes nations such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

But whatever the issue, Huckabee — an author and former Fox News host — wraps his appeal as a pitch to everyday Americans who he says "don't feel like anybody understands or knows who they are, much less cares what's happening to them."

"One thing that has to happen in America is moving the power away from Washington, where people are so disconnected from the way that so many ordinary Americans live," Huckabee says in another recent video.

Huckabee's potential strength rests with cultural conservatives who wield strong influence in the party's nominating process.

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