More than 1,100 buy tickets to see Mike Huckabee at Jo Ann Emerson's annual picnic

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is listed by London bookmakers as a 20-1 long-shot to be the Republican vice presidential nominee, but he's not advising anyone to risk any money.

Huckabee, during a session with reporters at U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's annual picnic in Cape Girardeau, said his Baptist faith would prevent him from taking a piece of that action. And the runner-up in the GOP contest for the presidential nomination said he's not seeking the second spot on the ticket with U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

"When you are the homeliest girl in school, never say you would like to go out with the captain of the football team," Huckabee said, displaying the quick wit that made him a favorite guest of late-night comedy show hosts such as Stephen Colbert.

Huckabee was the headliner for Emerson's picnic, an event that this year drew one of its largest crowds on record. More than 1,100 people purchased tickets for the event, said Lloyd Smith, the chief of Emerson's congressional staff.

Nearly 400 people attended last year's picnic.

Along with Huckabee, the crowd took in speeches from most of the GOP's statewide ticket, including U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof of Columbia, the nominee for governor; state Sen. Brad Lager of Maryville, nominee for state treasurer; state Sen. Mike Gibbons, nominee for attorney general; and Mitch Hubbard of Fulton, nominee for secretary of state. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau was out of town on other political business and could not attend. A letter was read on his behalf.

State Sen. Jason Crowell and Clint Tracy, nominee for the 158th District Missouri House seat, also made brief remarks.

During a speech that lasted about a half-hour, Huckabee used humor to criticize Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's energy proposals and extolled the virtues of McCain, who he said was always his second choice to be the GOP presidential nominee.

Huckabee noted that Obama is vacationing in Hawaii. He said he knew "a little bit of a secret that hasn't busted out in the press," that Obama is suffering from an abscessed tooth. "But he's so afraid of drilling that he won't let the dentist get near him," Huckabee said to general laughter.

Republicans and Democrats nationally have been embroiled in a debate over the best way to lower energy prices. The GOP has emphasized drilling for new sources of oil, and a small group of Republican U.S. House members have tried to attract attention by attacking Democratic leaders for taking a summer recess without voting on opening the outer continental shelf to exploration.

As he drew contrasts between McCain and Obama, Huckabee emphasized Obama's short time in public life -- Obama was a state senator in Illinois before election to the U.S. Senate in 2004 -- and McCain's lengthy resume, including his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. McCain showed his true character at that time, Huckabee said, when his captors alternately tortured him and promised him release if he would denounce his country.

"We need a president who understands what duty means, what honor means," Huckabee said. "The greatness of this country is not the people who run for office. It is the people who help us keep our freedom."

McCain will oppose tax increases, protect the life of unborn children and keep America prepared to meet challenges from al-Qaida and other threats, Huckabee said.

"Our country needs the kind of leadership he is going to bring," he said.

While Huckabee criticized Obama, he mainly stuck to policy differences, and said he was proud that in his lifetime he has seen America move from a mostly segregated society to one where race is a much smaller issue. "When people say race is the big issue, I say no," Huckabee said. Obama has been "made the nominee of his party not because of his race or in spite of it but through indifference to it."

No need to get personal

Huckabee endured unrelenting attack from conservative talk-show hosts during the primary season. Asked as the session with reporters ended if similar tactics against Obama will help or hurt Republicans, Huckabee said the GOP can win on issues, not insults.

"I think when people are looking at the choices, they are quite clear," he said. "I don't think we have to get personal."

After Huckabee finished speaking, Hulshof took the stage. Fresh off a hard-fought primary against state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, Hulshof began by reminding the crowd of his rural roots in the Missouri Bootheel, where his parents farmed and he still owns a working farm.

If the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jay Nixon, is elected, Hulshof said, he will seek to undo changes in workers' compensation laws, limits on medical malpractice awards and pursue tax increases that will kill off job creation.

Republicans must stand by the record of the last four years and by its core principles of lower taxes, smaller government and respect for life, Hulshof said.

"If we do that boldly, the American people will respond with fervor," he said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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Mike Huckabee's speech

News conference at Jo Ann Emerson's annual picnic

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