Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee talked a lot more like the Baptist preacher he is than the man who came close to winning the 2008 GOP presidential nomination in a speech to a fund-raising banquet for Toledo Christian Schools on Saturday night.
The theme of the night was Christian education and paying for it, and Mr. Huckabee stayed on topic while weaving in jokes from his own childhood and stories of his children's upbringing.
"We live in a world that is filled with darkness and evil. Sometimes we think we don't matter. But your investment matters more in the darkness than it ever would if we lived in a time [when] all the lights are on. We live in some dark days. God may want you to light a candle to change the world. You may have that opportunity and I hope you'll do something significant and big," Mr. Huckabee said.
He addressed politics in a meeting with local media before the speech.
About 400 people attended the Toledo Christian Schools Annual Benefit Banquet in the SeaGate Convention Centre. Mr. Huckabee hosts a weekly show, Huckabee, on the Fox news channel.
School Superintendent Mike Chivalette said he was hoping for as many as 800 people. The event, at $50 a plate, raised money for the school's general fund and scholarships. Mr. Chivalette told the crowd his goal was $60,000 for the school and urged each person in the audience to write a check for $150 right then and there.
Toledo Christian Schools is on the Anthony Wayne Trail in South Toledo and has 625 students from grades preschool through 12th.
Mr. Huckabee said he attended public schools as did his sons, yet he said he felt that references to God are being erased from public schools and children are growing up without learning about values that he said are absolute.
"We cannot live without the next generation of leaders having character and integrity," Mr. Huckabee said.
A top contender in the 2008 Republican presidential contest, Mr. Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, but then fell behind Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), coming in second in total delegates.
"Had it not been for a few votes in South Carolina, I might have been the nominee," Mr. Huckabee told reporters in a brief news conference before the speech. He said the Iowa caucuses can help a little-noticed candidate vault to the front of the pack.
He said he has no regrets about staying out of the 2012 race: "I feel the decision I made was the right one for me."
He said he wouldn't endorse before a nominee emerges from the primary process. "I think any of the candidates could be credible," he said.
"A lot has to do with what happens in the economy and the job market over the next several months. If we're still pushing 9 percent unemployment, I think anybody is a very viable candidate against the President.
"But I will support the nominee of the party vigorously," Mr. Huckabee said.
He got in kind of a plug for one of the candidates. "I think Rick Santorum will be surprisingly strong in Iowa," Mr. Huckabee said.
Nor would he predict who might end up on top.
"I don't think we know yet. The polls are showing [Mitt] Romney and [Newt] Gingrich, but there's still quite a bit of time for something to completely transform this race," Mr. Huckabee said.
"We've seen so many candidates on the Republican side of the race that have had their up-like-a-rocket and down-like-a-rock moment, and for all we know it could still happen."
Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is not a factor for him, Mr. Huckabee said. "You don't elect a president to be your pastor," he said. "Mitt Romney's faith should not have any factor in my deciding to support him or not."
Asked about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's marital infidelities, Mr. Huckabee said a candidate would be in trouble if he tried to justify or cover up past sins.
"I can accept people's frailties as a human being. I can't put them in a position and elevate them to leadership if they don't understand they are frail," Mr. Huckabee said.
He went on to allege that a lot of current news reporting, such as on the personal lives of candidates, isn't as carefully scrutinized by editors as it used to be.
Mr. Huckabee reminisced about his 2008 campaigning in Michigan, where he toured the Motown Historical Museum, also known as Hitsville USA, the Detroit museum of the Motown recording studio.
"That was the coolest thing I ever got to do. That was one of my campaign stops and to this day I still talk about it," he said. Mr. Huckabee is known for playing bass guitar with the bands that come on his show.
In attendance was Mayor Mike Bell as the guest of Bill Stewart, whose children attended Toledo Christian.
Mr. Huckabee lavished praise on Mr. Bell, speculating he passed up dozens of other invitations to be present.
"I may be one of the few people in this room who understands how many demands are on the mayor," Mr. Huckabee said. "From my heart, I want to say thank you. It gives an extraordinary sense of affirmation to the mission of Toledo Christian School, and God bless you."
He also praised the speech of 2004 alumnus Steven Whitlow, who told about making money as a student selling cans of Pepsi cheaper than the cafeteria and suggested Mr. Whitlow be sent to Washington.
"He really does know more than most of the members of Congress how business functions," Mr. Huckabee said.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.