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Non-candidate Huckabee 'encouraged' by poll showing 2016 lead

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Byron York,Marco Rubio,Paul Ryan,Polls,2016 Elections,Rand Paul,Ted Cruz,Chris Christie,Scott Walker,Rick Santorum,Bobby Jindal,Rick Perry,Jeb Bush,Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won eight primaries and caucuses in the 2008 Republican presidential race, says a new poll showing him tied for the lead of the 2016 GOP primary race is "encouraging."

The poll, done by Washington-based WPA Opinion Research, shows Huckabee and Rand Paul tied at the top of a still very unformed GOP race, with 13 percent each. Jeb Bush is second at 11 percent, with Chris Christie and Ted Cruz tied at nine percent, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio at six percent, Scott Walker at five percent, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum at three percent, Rick Perry and one percent and "Don't know" at 19 percent.

"While any decision on my part is some time away, this is certainly encouraging, since I've not even been named in most polls, and certainly not considered an 'insider,' " Huckabee said in an emailed statement. "If I were to run, I'd certainly start in a different place than in 2008."

In a phone conversation this week, Huckabee stressed he would make no decision on a 2016 run until at least after this November's midterm elections. "I'm not ready to jump in the pool," Huckabee said. Still, Huckabee said he expects to be politically active this fall, appearing on behalf of Republicans running for re-election around the country. As far as what other candidates and non-candidates are doing -- Will Jeb Bush enter the race? Will some other candidate catch fire? -- Huckabee said his decision will not be influenced by the presence or absence of any other GOP rivals.

On Wednesday, Huckabee spoke to a big fundraising event in Washington for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the main re-election arm for House Republicans. A source at the meeting says Huckabee "delivered a populist message about how Republicans have better policies to help the poor and working class." The source continued: "He talked about his own working-class roots, and how many Republican members of Congress started out poor like him, and shouldn't allow the Democrats to say they don't care about the working class, because the GOP in fact has better policies to help them." The source says Huckabee was "very well received."

Huckabee also met with about 70 House Republicans in a discussion that touched on his 2016 plans. Calling their response "positive," Huckabee suggested that if he runs in '16, he would have significantly more support than in 2008, when he was backed by a grand total of two Republican lawmakers.

Finally, Huckabee said he is mindful of his obligation to Fox News as he decides whether to run. The host of a weekend show on Fox, Huckabee would have to leave if he were running for office; Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Scott Brown have all had to give up positions at the network when they began campaigns. Huckabee said he will inform Fox as soon as he makes up his mind and before he takes any formal steps toward a run.

The WPA Opinion Research poll was taken March 18-20. Other notable results, according to WPA: More of the Republicans surveyed, 48 percent, more closely identified with the "traditional Republican Party" than the 42 percent who identified with the Tea Party. An even 50 percent called themselves "economic conservatives concerned about jobs, economic growth, and debt," as opposed to 35 percent who identified themselves as "social conservatives concerned about moral values, protecting the family, and pro-life."

As far as the horse-race results are concerned, Chad Gallagher, who runs Huckabee's political action committee, HuckPAC, said, "The WPA poll reflects what we are seeing on the ground across the country. People view Gov. Huckabee as someone they trust to turn this country around. Although the governor has not decided whether or not to run for president in 2016, these poll results are a positive sign that solid support is out there."

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner