Presidential contender Mike Huckabee says his party took a beating in the 2006 election because too many of its candidates didn’t act like Republicans.
“We didn’t fight corruption like we should, we didn’t curtail spending, we didn’t resolve problems,” the former Arkansas governor told reporters Friday before a speech to the Midwest Leadership Conference.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney touted his views on health care in a dinner speech Friday night, continuing a theme he had begun earlier in the day while campaigning in Florida.
Except for actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson, who was scheduled as the keynote speaker Saturday night, others in the crowded GOP field were skipping the event.
Huckabee and Romney said that it was too early to judge success or failure in Iraq, remarks that were in part a reaction to Republican Sen. John Warner’s call to begin troop withdrawals before the end of the year. Both said that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, should be given time to complete the effort marked by a surge in troop levels.
Romney said it had become popular to be critical of President Bush on the war on terror but added, “Let’s not forget this president has kept us safe the last six years, and that doesn’t just happen.”
Romney and Huckabee each said that the nation should tackle its illegal immigration problem. Huckabee said that should begin with strengthening the nation’s borders, and Romney said the government should go after employers who hire people they know to be illegal immigrants.
Huckabee sprinkled his speech with humor. After the crowd sang happy birthday to him, he said he had indeed turned 52 on Friday. The crowd applauded, but Huckabee said, “You’re supposed to go ‘Ooo and ahh, you don’t look it.'”
Romney’s health care initiatives call for deregulating the health insurance market, capping malpractice claims and making sure everyone was insured. Instead of using federal money to reimburse hospitals for treating people without insurance, he wants the money to be used to help low-income people buy insurance at lower cost.
The conference is billed as a springboard for Republican presidential candidates in the vote-rich Midwest.
Iowa, Illinois and Michigan have caucuses or primaries by Feb. 5, and Ohio is a traditional swing state in general elections. Combined, the 12 states in the conference — which includes Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin — have 124 electoral votes out of 270 needed to become president.