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Despite Iowa Win, Huckabee an Outsider

Mike Huckabee bows to reporters in Windham, N.H. (Getty Images).

By Juliet Eilperin
WINDHAM, N.H. -- Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee laid claim to the mantle of Washington outsider this morning, explaining to a crowd of hundreds that he is best positioned to reform an ossified federal government.

"I'm not a part of what's wrong, I'm a part of what could be right," Huckabee said at a "Chowderfest Meet & Greet" he headlined along with action star Chuck Norris. "I'm not part of the Washington scene. That's one of the reasons they are going crazy down there."

Huckabee said he wanted to stop the cycle in which Americans sent their money to Washington and then federal bureaucrats charged a high "handling fee" before giving them some of their tax dollars back.

Early on his speech, Huckabee struggled to be heard over the shouts of a protester, who questioned why Huckabee was letting Richard Hass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, be his foreign policy adviser. Huckabee did not answer the criticism directly but joked that "free speech is alive and well in New Hampshire" and noted that the heckler would not be "brought out and shot" like he might be in a more repressive regime.

"The great thing about this country is you don't have to agree with the politicians if you don't want to," Huckabee said.

Norris delivered an extended introduction to Huckabee, saying he backed the former governor's focus on education and support for eliminating the current income tax system in favor of one based entirely on a sales tax. "We've got to do something to take the burden off the middle class in America," Norris said.

The movie star drew enthusiastic applause when he suggested his personal campaign finance reform proposal: give each presidential candidate $30 million in federal funds in the primary, and another $50 million once they reach the general, but bar them from raising private funds or investing their own money in their candidacies.

"It's corporate America that's giving them the money," he said of better-funded candidates, adding that when it came to Huckabee: "You know, corporate America isn't giving him money. Wall Street hates him too. But that's all right, you make the decision, not Wall Street."

After being prompted by his wife, Gena, Norris told the crowd they could help close the fundraising gap by participating in a "virtual barbecue" on Jan. 20, where for a fee of about $10 they could log on and get a tour of Norris' 700-acre ranch. Norris and his wife will also be hosting a pricier BBQ fundraiser for Huckabee on their property, which lies outside of Houston, and Huckabee told people they were welcome to show up for that as well.

A few audience members came to the chowderfest backing Huckabee: Dave Copeland, a registered independent from Spofford, said he read Huckabee's book "Character is the Issue" a few years ago and had backed him ever since.

"I though, 'Wow, this is the best of both worlds. It's the compassion Democrats talk about and he keeps spending in check,'" Copeland said.

But most said they came because they wanted to learn more about Huckabee. Dan Ryan, who is building a house in Conway, said he prefers former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but would back Huckabee if he got the GOP nomination.

"Our primary issue with him is the lack of experience, the lack of business experience, Chuck Norris as Secretary of Defense," Ryan said, adding he had nothing against the action-film hero, and used to be his neighbor in Texas.

Ruth Albert, a direct descendant of Declaration of Independence signer Josiah Bartlett, said she wanted to hear what Huckabee had to say because she had become disenchanted with her party.

"I've been a staunch Republican all my life, but I've been very disappointed in the last few years with the Republicans," said Albert, who noted she would be voting in New Hampshire's GOP primary but would consider backing a Democrat in the fall. "I think we need to bring honesty and values back to the White House. I have a feeling I can't believe what the president is telling us. I want a president I can believe."

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 6, 2008; 6:55 PM ET
Categories:  Candidates , Mike Huckabee , Primaries , The GOP  
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