WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told about 70 Republican House members Wednesday that he is considering another run for the White House - but that campaign cash remains a key issue for him.
Huckabee had deep support among social conservatives during his 2008 presidential bid, but he never won over establishment-minded Republicans and ended that campaign broke.
Huckabee told lawmakers Wednesday that he feels more confident about his ability to raise cash ahead of the 2016 race, according to Huckabee advisers and GOP officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak by name about the private meeting.
Since the 2008 campaign, his own show on Fox News Channel has raised his profile. He has visited the early nominating states of Iowa and South Carolina in recent months and, the officials said, plans a trip to another early state, New Hampshire, next month.
The session at the Republican National Committee is Huckabee's most serious sign so far that he is leaning toward another national campaign.
On Twitter, Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan posted a picture of himself with Huckabee and said he "heard lots of positive ideas for getting the country on the right track." He also said Huckabee "seems to be testing the waters for presidential run by stopping in DC this morning."
Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana also tweeted out pictures of Huckabee's meeting.
"The most common thoughts expressed to me by those in attendance related to Gov. Huckabee's unique ability to personify the heart and soul of the Republican Party while being able to personally relate to all Americans," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.
Franks said the turnout was "an extremely positive reflection on Gov. Huckabee and the level of respect he has generated among a very broad philosophical and geographical cross-section of Congress."
In a closed-door session, Huckabee told the lawmakers that conservatives could not settle for a moderate nominee after Sen. John McCain in 2008 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012. Both lost to Democrat Barack Obama and ran as conservative Republicans.
"As a party, we need to really stay true to our core values," Huckabee told lawmakers, according to one Huckabee adviser.
Huckabee, a Southern Baptist pastor, could be a significant candidate if he runs again. Since losing the GOP nomination to McCain in 2008, Huckabee has worked to build a national network of supporters that goes beyond the evangelical Republicans who fueled his first bid.
Huckabee addressed the RNC's winter meeting and took his turn auditioning to the party's leaders. He helped raise money for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. Earlier this month, he told the nation's largest gathering of conservative activists that they must not forget God's guidance.
"If this nation forgets our God, then God will have every right to forget us," Huckabee told the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Should he run again, Huckabee begins in a better place than when he started campaigning in 2007 as a little-known Arkansas governor and former pastor. His weekly show on Fox News Channel has given him a direct line to the conservative voters who pick the Republican presidential nominees — not to mention a personal wealth he could tap.
In 2008, he mortgaged his house and spent about $100,000 of his own money so his campaign could stay afloat. He ended his campaign running on fumes but still collected the second largest number of delegates to the Republican nominating convention - a fact he likes to tell his audiences at every chance.
But money remains a top concern for Huckabee and his potential backers, his advisers say. During his meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, they asked Huckabee if the money would be there if he decides to run. He told them that he is more confident than he was in 2008 that donors would come through for him. But the concern also is keeping him from making a firm decision on whether to run.
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