Mike Huckabee Enters Republican Presidential Race

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Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in National Harbor, Md., March 7, 2014.Credit: AP

Republican Mike Huckabee entered the race for his party's 2016 presidential nomination on Tuesday, looking to break out from an ever-widening field by drawing on the support of social conservatives attuned to his culture-warrior message.

"We were promised hope, but it was just talk and now we really need the kind of change that really could get America from hope to higher ground," Huckabee declared at a campaign rally in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, denouncing the direction President Barack Obama had led the United States.

In a speech filled with fiery rhetoric, Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a conservative television personality, said that, if elected, he would change government policies to focus more on the economic plight of middle-class Americans.

He was also tough on the Islamic State group, saying he would change the U.S. approach from attempting to contain the militant group and instead would "conquer" it.

"We will deal with jihadis just like we deal with deadly snakes," he said.

Huckabee vowed strong U.S. support for Israel and took a dim view of negotiations aimed at deterring Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

"Hell will freeze over" before Iran gets a nuclear weapon, he added.

Huckabee, 59, became the sixth Republican to make a formal White House bid. 

Huckabee became a national figure by staging an upset win in Iowa's kickoff nominating contest during his 2008 presidential bid.

This time, other Republicans with national recognition like U.S. Senator Ted Cruz have emerged as rivals for the role of leading crusader on social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage.

Polls show Huckabee's support among Republican voters is in the single digits.

He served two terms as governor of Arkansas, between 1996 and 2007, taking the office held just a few years earlier by Democratic president Bill Clinton.

After falling short in his 2008 presidential bid, Huckabee hosted a popular television talk show on Fox News.

A recent Gallup poll found he was the most well-known of the potential Republican candidates, along with former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, is seen as a favorite of social conservatives and faces a crowded field of challengers. Former HP executive Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson announced Monday that they would seek the center-right party's nomination for the 2016 election.

Along with Cruz, another two first-term U.S. senators are seeking the nomination: Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Several prominent likely candidates, including Bush, are expected to announce their candidacies in the coming weeks.