DES MOINES, Iowa, Aug. 13, 2015 - Republican Mike Huckabee pressed his populist pitch as he worked the crowd at the opening of the Iowa State Fair, kicking off the parade of presidential hopefuls who will appear at the event during its 11-day run. 

The former Arkansas governor’s insurgent message and social conservatism helped him win the Iowa caucuses in 2008, but this campaign's polls show him trailing behind Donald Trump and other anti-Washington rivals, including neurosurgeon Ben Carson. 

Huckabee spent at least an hour at the fair. He was the opening speaker at The Des Moines Register Soapbox, where he started off with digs at Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who is expected at the fair on Saturday along with Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Clinton “is not going to come (to Iowa). She’ll email in her appearances,” Huckabee quipped. To get elected governor of Arkansas, he had to overcome the “Clinton apparatus” that controlled the state, he said.

Huckabee emphasized the need to expand the economy, and claimed that his proposal for a national sales tax, which he calls the “Fair Tax,” would produce 6 percent growth, an astonishing rate. 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called for boosting growth to 4 percent. Critics of Huckabee’s plan say it would be unfair to the poor. 

Huckabee also defended the Renewable Fuel Standard, arguing that it wasn’t hypocritical to be conservative and also support the biofuel usage mandates on refiners. He suggested the government was morally obligated to keep the mandates in place, given that the industry had invested in the processing plants needed to produce the ethanol and biodiesel.

“A conservative position says if the government tells people to do something … and they do it, and then the same government pulls the rug out from under them and says we’re not going to do that anymore, you’ve just messed up a whole lot of people who made their investment because they trusted their government,” Huckabee said.

He did not address the key question that has plagued the Environmental Protection Agency - that is whether the mandates should be raised above the “blend wall,” the amount of ethanol that the EPA believes the market can absorb. The agency has so far said it will keep the mandates near the blend wall. 


Huckabee spent another half hour or so touring the fair, answering more questions from a pack of reporters as well as passers by. 

In keeping with populist credentials - and echoing Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley - Huckabee said the Obama administration should consider imposing antidumping tariffs on Chinese exports in retaliation for China’s recent move to devalue its currency. 

“I’m well familiar with what the Chinese do when they dump steel into this country,” he said, citing an Arkansas-based steel maker. “That jeopardizes American jobs and American free enterprise. We’ve got to stop it.”

He also called for exporting energy, and to ramp up funding for roads and bridges. “If we’re serious about creating jobs we need to be serious about rebuilding what is a crumbling infrastructure in this nation. It doesn’t have to put us into debt. There are ways to do it with creative financing, use of bonds, that can actually improve America.”

House and Senate Republicans are currently at odds over how to pay for a long-term highway bill. 


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