Huckabee vists area to raise money

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee speaks at Gainesville's University Air Center on Tuesday afternoon.

BRANDON KRUSE/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 11:45 p.m.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee swept through Alachua County on Tuesday to raise money for his financially struggling campaign.

The former Arkansas governor held a private fundraiser at the Newberry home of Mike Minck, a mortgage lender and former candidate for the Alachua County Commission. Huckabee spoke with reporters after arriving at the Gainesville Regional Airport, but the fundraiser was closed to the media.

Huckabee's visit to Alachua County comes as his campaign is taking new steps to save money, including canceling a plane for reporters and having staffers forgo pay. Huckabee said the steps should not be taken as signs that he's going to be forced to stop campaigning in Florida.

"We'll be doing events in Florida every day, now through the primary," he said.

Huckabee won the Republican caucus in Iowa but has not won a primary or caucus since. Like the rest of the crowded GOP field, he's banking on a solid showing in Florida's Jan. 29 primary to provide momentum for his campaign before 24 states vote the following Tuesday.

Before Huckabee's arrival in Gainesville, former U.S. Sen. and actor Fred Thompson dropped out of the race. Huckabee said he believes he benefits from the decision and Thompson's supporters have already been moving to his campaign.

"It would have been helpful if he'd done this before," he said. "Now if the rest of them drop out, we'll really be happy."

Huckabee was greeted by about 50 people outside the University Air Center at the Gainesville airport. Most were members of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which made Huckabee an honorary member because his son was a member at Arkansas State University.

UF chapter president Chris Dawson, 21, said some local members are Huckabee supporters while others came for the opportunity to meet a presidential candidate. He counts himself as a supporter, saying Huckabee's anti-abortion position and likability were among the reasons.

"He's just a personable guy," he said. "He's well-spoken but not to the point where he's telling you what you want to hear."

Huckabee has tried to appeal to young people, enlisting action star Chuck Norris as a campaign regular. Norris made news Sunday when he said presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is too old to handle the pressures of being president.

Huckabee avoided directly answering about whether he agreed with Norris.

"I've been careful not to disrespect John McCain but I've been even more careful not to make Chuck Norris mad," he said.

Huckabee posed for pictures with fraternity members before leaving for the fundraiser. He was scheduled to fly back to Arkansas after the event and then return to Florida in advance of Thursday's televised debate.

The fundraiser was held at the home of Mark Minck, a mortgage lender at Wachovia Mortgage Corp. who ran as a Republican for County Commission in 2004. Minck lost to Democrat Paula DeLaney by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.

Minck's home is located in a gated community and reporters were not allowed to attend the event or enter the gates to talk with Huckabee supporters. The fundraiser was co-sponsored by Jim Gilbert, a Christian songwriter and author who lives in Gainesville.

Gilbert declined comment at the request of the Huckabee campaign, but wrote on his Internet blog that he has helped raised $41,000 for the campaign. He cited Huckabee's record as a social and fiscal conservative as the reason for his support.

"If a Democrat wins in November, (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi and the gates of hell will join forces to ram through a glut of horrible legislation, and America will find itself in the grip of the same socialist culture rot that is killing Western Europe as we speak," Gilbert wrote.

The fundraiser comes as Huckabee campaign adviser Ed Rollins said some staffers have left and others are going without pay. Huckabee said some volunteers were simply going without their expenses being paid and that a large plane for reporters was being canceled because it was not being filled.

Huckabee said his campaign will rely on his Web site and events organized through to reduce the high costs of campaigning in Florida.

In an apparent reference to fellow contender and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Huckabee said he was forced to be frugal "in part because I don't have a big checkbook from which I can write real nice multi-million-dollar checks and cover it."

Huckabee painted a contrast with Romney and other GOP candidates, saying he was the candidate who was strongest on social issues. Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, favors constitutional amendments to outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage

He said he differed with McCain on the Arizona senator's opposition to a national catastrophic insurance fund. Huckabee said he supported the fund because the impact of hurricanes goes beyond Florida, affecting gas prices and the nation's economy.

"To act like it doesn't matter is to me showing a lack of understanding of how the nation's economy works," Huckabee said.

Huckabee defended the comments he made last week in South Carolina about the display of the Confederate flag at the capitol there. He told supporters, "if someone came to the state of Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them where to put the pole - that's what we'd do."

Huckabee said he was merely saying that he thought a decision about the flag should be left up to the state.

"I never defended the flag, I never dissed the flag," he said. "The point is it's none of my business."

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gville

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