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Huckabee’s Candidacy Could Mean Showdown with Libertarians

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"Eight years is a different world.”

Mike Huckabee (Image source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will be entering a very different Republican primary field when he announces his candidacy Tuesday, one that will likely bring up the debate over where libertarians stand in the Republican party, while also facing more competition for social conservative voters than eight years ago.

“Huckabee does have name recognition having been on Fox News all this time,” Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, told TheBlaze. “At the same time, after he won the caucuses here in 2008, there was a lot of concern that he wasn’t as conservative as some thought.”

On Tuesday, Huckabee is returning to his hometown of Hope, Arkansas to announce he is running again for president. Huckabee won the Iowa caucus in 2008 and seven other states that year, but failed to capture the Republican party’s nomination.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Huckabee isn’t rushing to have his name included among the crowded field of potential Republican presidential candidates. But he isn’t closing the door, either, as he meets Thursday with the GOP’s cardinals at the Republican National Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) AP Photo/Susan Walsh F (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

One major candidate he’ll be facing in the primary is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, carrying the libertarian banner. In May 2008, after exiting the race, Huckabee delivered a broadside to libertarianism, calling it the “greatest threat to classic Republicanism.”

“It's a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says, "look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don't get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and healthcare, so be it,’” Huckabee said of libertarianism.

That old debate will definitely be prominent in the campaign, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a social conservative think tank.

“There is no question that it will be a central underlying debate in this campaign,” Perkins told TheBlaze. “The libertarian viewpoint has gained some ground, but its setbacks have been significant. Rand Paul, the leader of that view, has advocated isolationism. We know that will not work and might make things worse in the world. The evidence is overwhelming against pure libertarianism.”

Winning over social conservatives will be a bigger problems this time, because that base has more choices than in 2008.

“As a person who won the caucus, he came from behind with social conservatives,” Hagle said. “In 2012, Rick Santorum came from behind to win with many of the same voters. His problem this year is that Santorum is running again. Ted Cruz is running. There is going to be more competition for those socially conservative voters. Eight years is a different world.”

Iowa is an important state for Huckabee having won it eight years ago. It will reflect poorly on either Huckabee or Santorum to lose a state they previously won, Hagle said.

The importance of a past winner winning Iowa varies, as there are two precedents.

George H.W. Bush beat Ronald Reagan in the 1980 Iowa Caucus, but as a sitting vice president came in third place in the 1988 Iowa contest. He still managed to capture the Republican nomination the presidency. On the flip side, Missouri U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt won the 1988 Democratic Iowa Caucus, but his loss in the 2004 caucus ended his campaign.

Though he is entering a very different field, Huckabee is still a popular political figure whose time hasn’t passed, Perkins said, and he has had time to prove his conservatism.

“In the last seven years he has articulated on Fox News and in speeches across the country a very conservative agenda,” Perkins said. “In 2008 there were tax issue as governor where he had to work with a Democratic legislature. But it’s clear where he stands on social conservative and economic conservative issues.”

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