Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told S.C. House Republicans Tuesday that he’s the only GOP candidate who can beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election.
“Nobody has ever faced down the political machinery of the Clintons like I have repeatedly and won,” Huckabee said, referring to the Democratic apparatus in Arkansas, where Bill Clinton was governor before he was elected president.
Huckabee also dismissed the idea that his appeal is mostly to Christian conservatives.
“A lot of the strength of my support came from working-class people who felt disconnected from both the donor class and the political class” – people who “sweat through their clothes” and lift heavy things for a living, said Huckabee, who almost won the state’s 2008 presidential primary.
Huckabee’s strong showing in 2008 — losing to U.S. Sen. John McCain by 3 percentage points — came largely due to the support of social conservatives in the Upstate.
In 2012, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania filled that niche, said Joe St. John, who attended Huckabee’s reception. The York County political operative helped Santorum in 2012 but now is backing Huckabee.
Santorum came in third in the 2012 S.C. primary, winning 17 percent of the vote to 40 percent for winner Newt Gingrich. But St. John predicts a lot of Santorum supporters will switch to Huckabee, in part because they identify more closely with Huckabee, a Southern Baptist, than Santorum, a Catholic.
State Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, who attended Huckabee’s reception, said he voted for Santorum in 2012 but is considering several candidates, including Huckabee, Santorum and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. All speak to his faith values, Smith said.
Asked if he is vying for the same votes as Santorum, Huckabee demurred. “My experience is ... when I ask them to vote for me, all the smart people are saying, ‘Yes.’ ”
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Christie to decide in June
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke to the Richland County GOP at the Liberty Tap Room in Columbia Tuesday, saying he will decide sometime this month whether he is running for president.
Christie was in full campaign mode, zinging President Barack Obama and laying out his vision for economic development, entitlement reforms and working with Democrats to get things done.
A woman told Christie that she liked U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s native-son candidate, asking why she should focus on the Garden State leader instead. “The next president of the United States has to be a governor,” Christie said, touting his response to Hurricane Sandy when he said state leaders looked to him to make decisions quickly.
Governors “had to make the decisions, you had to persuade a legislature, you had to do all the things you had to do if you sat in that chair in Washington, but, most importantly, you had to decide.”