The clearest sign yet that Mike Huckabee is leaning toward another presidential run emerged Thursday. The former Arkansas Governor plans to visit Iowa in June and participate in the Family Leader’s “Presidential Lecture Series”, according to the group’s CEO Bob Vander Plaats. He disclosed that information to a crowd of 50 in Oskaloosa.
So far, Huckabee has sent mixed signals about his intentions for the 2012 race. He is building a new $2.3 million beach house in Florida and has an Alaskan cruise scheduled for early June. The cost of the home and the timing of the cruise led some to believe that the 2008 Iowa Caucus winner will not run again. However, by taking part in the Family Leader’s self-described “vetting process”, Huckabee shows that not only is he interested in running, he is also taking steps to raise his profile and connect with likely Iowa Caucus goers.
Vander Plaats, who was Huckabee’s 2008 state chair, is in the midst of a 99 county tour across Iowa on behalf of the Family Leader. The goal is to build a statewide, grassroots network of social conservatives. The group plans to endorse a candidate for the 2012 Iowa Caucus and put that grassroots network into action. In exchange for the endorsement, the Family Leader hopes to have a powerful voice in shaping policy throughout the country.
“We started up this 99 county tour believing that if we could build up the organization, we could have influence from the church house to the White House and everywhere in between,” Vander Plaats says. “Can you imagine if we had a church ambassador, a citizen ambassador and a grassroots coordinator in every county, what we could do for pro-family issues in Iowa and the country? It would be huge.”
If Huckabee runs, he is the clear favorite to earn the Family Leader’s endorsement. Along with his connection to Vander Plaats, Huckabee headlined two fundraisers for the organization last year. However, Vander Plaats vows to give all the candidates a fair shot. “We want to create a fair, level playing field for all the candidates,” he told a crowd in Winterset last week.
Most of the potential GOP presidential candidates have been invited to take part in the ”Presidential Lecture Series”, which will happen once each month leading into the fall. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will be the first, visiting Sioux Center, Pella and Iowa City on Monday. Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Huckabee and Newt Gingrich are on the docket for March, April, May, June and July, respectively.
Other candidates considering presidential runs are holding discussions with the Family Leader about the lecture series. “(South Dakota Senator John) Thune, I met with him on Sunday and I believe he’s coming out,” Vander Plaats said. “We have conservations with (Indiana Governor Mitch) Daniels going.” Haley Barbour and Jon Huntsman have also been in contact with the social conservative group. Invitations to Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin have not been answered, so far.
Each participant in the “Presidential Lecture Series” will conduct events in Sioux Center, Pella and Iowa City in one day. Governor Tim Pawlenty launches the series at 12:45 pm Monday at Pella Christian High School. “At each location, he’ll meet with a leadership roundtable, which is an invitation-only thing,” Vander Plaats said. “No press, no recording, just to have a back and forth conversation about what motivates this guy. Then we’ll adjourn to a lecture hall and he’s gonna give a pro-family vision for America.” Following the half hour speech, Vander Plaats will interview the presidential candidate for 20 minutes. The lectures and Q&A sessions are open to the public.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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