Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday, an underdog joining a crowded field of White House hopefuls.
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister turned politician, is the third Republican to enter the race this week. Two political outsiders, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a black conservative, launched their presidential campaigns on Monday.
Huckabee returned Tuesday to his hometown of Hope, Arkansas — the same small town where former President Bill Clinton was born — to make official what the local newspaper called "the worst kept secret" in the state.
He told his supporters at the Hope rally: "It would be perfectly fitting that I would announce here that I am a candidate for president of the United States."
This time Huckabee hopes to expand on the support of evangelical Christians who helped him win eight states in the 2008 primary campaign which he eventually lost to Sen. John McCain. But he is considered a longshot in a field that already includes several seasoned politicians such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are expected to launch their bids soon.
Yet while those prospects have claimed much of the early attention and favor from donors, the Republican race is a wide-open contest that could ultimately feature more than 20 major candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, holds a commanding lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. Her only declared opponent so far is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running to the left of Clinton.
Fiorina and Clinton are bidding to become the first female U.S. president, while Cruz and Rubio, both Cuban-American, are vying to become the first Hispanic president.
In a strategy aimed at working-class cultural conservatives, Huckabee and his aides say his second run would pitch the candidate as an economic populist and foreign affairs hawk who holds deeply conservative views on social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
Huckabee, 59, also argues that he is the best Republican to take on Clinton, a former Arkansas first lady. In a recent campaign video, Huckabee says that in his more than 10 years as governor, he took on Democrats in "Bill Clinton's Arkansas" after candidate Bill Clinton won election to the White House in 1992.
Huckabee was elected lieutenant governor, his first public office, months after Clinton left the governor's mansion for Washington.
"I governed in a state that was the most lopsided and partisan in the country," he told supporters. "No Republican governor had more Democrats and fewer Republicans. I challenged the deeply entrenched political machine that ran this state. It was tough sledding, but I learned how to govern and how to lead."
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow contributed to this report.