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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 

"Hope For America"

ARNEWS: WASHINGTON - Gov. Mike Huckabee, exploring a run for president in 2008, said Tuesday he wants to shed the image of being a single-issue candidate by broadening his message beyond advocating health and fitness.

The slimmed-down governor, who dropped 110 pounds after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2003, said he did not want to be defined by his weight loss if he chooses to run.

"I don't want to be ghettoized as the only thing I'm wanting to talk about is losing weight and getting healthy," Huckabee said. "To some people that is the only thing of interest to me. Of course, it isn't."

Huckabee discussed the shift in strategy during a roundtable with about 20 regional and national reporters where he fielded questions on issues including immigration and Iraq as well as his presidential aspirations.

After assuming the chairmanship of the National Governors Association last summer, Huckabee made promoting healthy living the centerpiece of his one-year term.

In that role, Huckabee launched a Healthy America Initiative modeled after a program already in place in Arkansas aimed at urging people to stop smoking, exercise more and eat healthier.

But on Tuesday, Huckabee sought to recast himself. In his 10 years as governor, Huckabee said he has dealt with a host of issues including education reform, highways, conservation and prison reform.

As part of the change, Huckabee said he has renamed his Virginia-based political action committee from "Healthy America" to "Hope for America." The governor, who was born in Hope, Ark., uses the political fund to pay for travel and other expenses connected with building support for a possible candidacy and related activities.

Huckabee said he would wait until after he leaves office in January 2007 before deciding whether he would run for president. Top on his list of considerations will be the emphasis on raising large sums of cash to run a viable campaign, he said.

"There's an obscene amount of money that has to be raised to run for national office," he said. "I'm facing it realistically that you have to spend most of your time raising money."

Huckabee reported an ending balance of $129,027 in his political fund as of the latest filing period that ended March 31.

As a candidate, Huckabee said he could relate well to the needs of the average American having grown up in modest means in Arkansas.

"I didn't grow up a child of privilege," he said. "I've got more in common with people working in the kitchen than those at the head table."

On immigration, Huckabee said he supported the plan outlined by President Bush in his address to the nation Monday night, including mobilizing 6,000 National Guard troops to secure the U.S.-Mexican border.

He said he anticipated about 125 members of the Arkansas National Guard would take part in the effort.

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