DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Sunday that Iowa voters likely launched a national movement when ousting three state Supreme Court justices who agreed with a decision to strike a ban on gay marriage.
Huckabee was in Des Moines courting evangelical conservatives who pushed him to victory in Iowa’s leadoff precinct caucuses in the last election.
“The significance and historic nature of the judicial elections here in Iowa were far bigger than the borders of Iowa,” he said. “It was a very important statement that voters made, a statement that resonated across the country and one that I think will give legs to a larger movement over the next few years.”
Huckabee spoke to more than 1,000 evangelicals gathered at a massive church in Des Moines. The gathering marked the merger of a series of evangelical groups into a single organization known as The Family Leader, to be headed by veteran activist Bob Vander Plaats.
The merged group likely will play a crucial role in Iowa’s Republican politics, as the campaign for the state’s precinct caucuses begins to warm. And the former Baptist minister Huckabee is moving quickly to court the activists.
“This is a group of people with whom I am very comfortable and familiar,” he said.
After winning Iowa’s precinct caucuses in the last election cycle, Huckabee quickly faded and he’s now working as a television and radio commentator. But he makes it clear he’s thinking of another run for the GOP presidential nomination.
“Am I keeping the option open? Yes,” Huckabee said. “Am I open to considering it? Of course I am, I would be foolish not to in light of what I’ve been through.”
He noted that he’s in a much different place than four years ago, when he said he was “an asterisk in the polls.”
“This time in most of the national polls I’m either at the top or near the top and that certainly is a different position to be in,” he said.
Huckabee said he wasn’t sure about a timetable for reaching a decision, but it’s likely that potential Republican candidates will begin making their intentions clear early next year. “Ask me in six months and I’ll have a clearer answer,” he said.
His message to evangelicals was that issues like stable and traditional marriage are economic ones, because they relate to the health of society.
“People who think of them as only peripheral social issues clearly have not done much depth of research and understanding of the economic impact of broken families,” he said.
Huckabee said one election fallout that hasn’t gotten much attention was Republicans taking over 19 state legislatures around the country, giving the GOP a much stronger hand in formulating policies often decided at the state level.
“This may be more significant than what happened in Congress because the long-term policy is going to be affected by those state legislatures more than Congress, particularly a divided Congress,” he said.
Vander Plaats, who is to lead the merged evangelical group, ran the campaign to oust the three Supreme Court justices in Iowa. The justices were part of last year’s 7-0 decision striking down a state law defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Antipathy toward that ruling energized social conservatives, and they clearly are sharpening their political structure for coming elections.
Vander Plaats said the new organization is “a renewed vision and fresh approach toward engaging Iowans to strengthen families.”
Huckabee said the new role means Vander Plaats “will play a very key policy role” in setting the state’s political agenda.
One thing Huckabee made clear as he ponders his decision is he won’t be swayed by any decisions made by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, also considered a potential candidate and who has close ties to the evangelical base that Huckabee courts.
“She’s got a very strong and important voice and has brought a lot of energy to the grass roots,” Huckabee said.
He added that, “One of the things I learned in politics is you never make your decision based on what other people do.”
Huckabee conceded that should Palin run “she may run away with it, and that’s something everybody has to be prepared for.”