Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee hiked onto Fred Thompson’s turf Monday, coming to Nashville after criticizing the former Tennessee senator for being “cut and run” on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, delivered a speech to celebrate Williamson Christian College’s 10th anniversary at Union Station Hotel on Monday night.
That speech, which essentially ended his day, was not a political one. He made no mention of Thompson or any of the other presidential candidates.
Huckabee had already done his politicking. He posted an entry on his campaign’s blog early Monday morning criticizing Thompson for his comments Sunday on Meet the Press.
On that show, Thompson said that although he is against gay marriage and believes life begins at conception, he would not support amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would ban gay marriage or abortion. He would rather leave that decision to individual states.
Huckabee called Thompson’s comments “disappointing and disheartening for those who were expecting him to be a solid voice for conservatives.”
“Sen. Thompson’s philosophy seems to be more ‘cut and run’ when it comes to these issues rather than stand and lead,” Huckabee wrote, adding that he would support both of the constitutional amendments.
Prior to his speech, Huckabee elaborated to local reporters on his comments on Thompson, arguing that the nation should have a defining line at the federal level on whether abortion and gay marriage is “right or wrong.”
“If you think something is wrong, is it more wrong in one state than another?” Huckabee said of Thompson’s federalist stance. “That’s the question. The question is not anything other than if you believe that it’s wrong, does it become more right in Mississippi than it does in Montana?”
Asked on Fox News to respond to Huckabee’s comment, Thompson said he did “not need to justify myself to the governor,” referencing his 100 percent pro-life voting record in the Senate as well as saying Roe v. Wade was “wrongfully decided.”
Thompson returned fire on the former governor of one of Tennessee’s border states.
“Gov. Huckabee talks about this I suppose because it is the only conservative position he’s got,” Thompson said. “People talk about a sanctuary cities — he apparently wanted a sanctuary state in Arkansas. He’s very weak on immigration policy. He was one of the highest taxing governors that we had in this country, rivaling Bill Clinton in terms of the CATO ratings. And getting a D when Clinton got a D and getting an F for part of his administration. So I can understand why he might want to talk solely about this issue.”
The battle continued when Huckabee Campaign Manager Chip Saltsman, a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman, fired back that Thompson’s comments were “absurd” and that Huckabee had cut taxes 94 times as governor and does not support sanctuary cities.
The back-and-forth between Huckabee and Thompson comes as the former Arkansas governor is showing improvement in the polls.
Since Oct. 1, Huckabee has doubled his poll numbers from 6 percent to 12 percent in Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll. During that same time, Thompson’s support in the tracking poll has dropped from 25 percent to 18 percent.
Parochially, Huckabee has had an upswing of support in Iowa since coming in second in the Iowa straw poll in August.
As he has improved, Huckabee threatens to take away some conservative and evangelical support from Thompson, said Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.
“Support that he can garner is probably disproportionately support that Thompson should like to be able to get,” Oppenheimer said. “So Thompson is probably hurt to the degree that Huckabee looks viable.”
Oppenheimer said Iowa is the state where Thompson should be concerned about Huckabee the most.
Huckabee said Iowa is “looking better and better for us.”
“There are three tickets out of Iowa — first class, business and coach,” Huckabee said. “If you don’t get one of those, you go home freight. So we feel like we’ll still be in the main cabin somewhere.”
In his speech, Huckabee told comical stories from his career in politics as well as relating to the audience through his own attendance of a Baptist college in Arkansas.
Williamson Christian College, which has 75 students and counts 45 graduates, paid Huckabee a “set fee” to come speak, said its president, Kenneth W. Oosting, which he would not disclose.
Oosting said Huckabee flew in by himself on American Airlines on Monday afternoon “cowboy boots and all.”
“He looked like any other person on the flight,” Oosting said. “We thought he’d come in all dressed up.”