KINGSPORT - Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee told Sullivan County Republicans Friday night that the GOP needs to get back to its conservative roots to retake Congress from the Democrats and keep the White House in Republican hands.
"People say if our party is going to win, we need to be a little bit more liberal than we've been. No. If our party is going to win, we need to be a whole lot more conservative than we have been acting like in the last couple of years," Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, said at the Sullivan County Republican Party's Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner at MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.
Huckabee, who is competing against the likes of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, said Republicans were hit by a "political tsunami" in 2006 when they lost Congress and control of numerous state legislatures and governorships.
"When I got a good licking from my Dad, I always wanted two things. One, I wanted to know why I got it. And I wanted to make sure I didn't get the same one again," Huckabee said.
Congress' spending habits, corruption from some Republican lawmakers and "lingering anger" from Hurricane Katrina were things that got Republicans in trouble with voters, he said. During the recent second debate among the 10 Republican White House hopefuls, Huckabee quipped that Congress has "spent money like (Democratic presidential hopeful) John Edwards at a beauty shop."
Huckabee stressed the GOP should not retreat from emphasizing that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
He also called Democrats' demands for a timetable to get American troops out of Iraq a "schedule for defeat and surrender."
Huckabee also again challenged Giuliani's position on abortion. Giuliani has said he is personally opposed to abortion but supports a woman's right to choose.
"That's as absurd as saying that slavery is immoral but if other people want to own some slaves, I guess that would be OK with me," Huckabee told Sullivan County Republicans. "If something is morally wrong, then we ought to do everything we can to see that it doesn't happen. ... We are a nation, a civilization, whose uniqueness has always been in our understanding that the life of one was as valuable as the life of all."
Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor who served as Arkansas' governor for more than 10 years, said he knows what it's like to compete against Democrats. Eighty-six percent of the elected officials in Arkansas are Democrats, he said.
"Being a Republican in Arkansas is a lot like being a fire hydrant in a neighborhood full of dogs," he joked.
Other speakers at the event - U.S. Rep. David Davis, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Tennessee House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower - took partisan aim at Democrats.
Davis again criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership style.
"She trying to find out exactly who she is - speaker of the House, president, commander in chief, ambassador," said Davis, R-1st District. "My Republican colleagues and I are going to do everything in our power over the next coming months to make sure she is a United States congressman."
Mumpower encouraged Republicans to call Gov. Phil Bredesen's office and support "no new taxes" - particularly a large cigarette tax hike to pay for education funding reform - during upcoming state budget deliberations.
Mumpower, R-Bristol, also said the GOP needs four more seats in 2008 to be the majority party in the state House.
"One of those seats is here in Sullivan County, and we need to dedicate ourselves tenfold to taking it back in 2008," Mumpower said in referring to the seat held by state Rep. Nathan Vaughn, D-Kingsport.
Ramsey, R-Blountville, noted this was the 23rd Lincoln Day Dinner he has spoke at this year. He said he's been logging 7,000 miles a month traveling the state.
"People ask me, ‘Ron why do you have a smile on your face all the time?'" Ramsey said. "Because it aggravates the Democrats. They can't stand it."
Ramsey also introduced Huckabee to the crowd of nearly 500 Republicans and noted Huckabee served as lieutenant governor before becoming governor in Arkansas.
"That's something to think about, uh?" mused Ramsey, who has been mentioned as a possible Tennessee gubernatorial candidate in 2010.
For more about the Sullivan County Republican Party, go to www.sullivancountygop.org.