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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Huckabee quietly visits NH, meets with top 2008 campaign backers

By John DiStaso, Senior Political Reporter
February 28. 2014 5:17PM

FRIDAY, FEB. 28: HUCKABEE WAS HERE. It remains to be seen if he'll run again for President in 2016, but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is making the rounds in key states -- now including New Hampshire.

The Granite Status has learned that Huckabee slipped in and out of the first-primary state Friday and spent about 90 minutes meeting with a handful of top members of his 2007-2008 "band."

The meeting took place in Manchester, shortly before Huckabee appeared at a Radisson Hotel meeting of the American Renewal Project, a national group headed by evangelical Christian David Lane that encourages conservative pastors to become more involved in politics.

Huckabee has spoken to chapters of the pastors' group in other states, and he has separately met with small groups of supporters and business leaders in fellow early voting states Iowa and South Carolina.

Friday's meeting here included only Huckabee and the inner circle from his 2007-2008 presidential run in the Granite State. He finished a strong third in that primary behind John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Deb Vander Beek, his state campaign manager seven years ago, confirmed she and Huckabee were joined by fellow top Granite State Huckabee campaign advisers and staffers, including Bob Clegg, Cliff Hurst and Periklis Karoutas.

Given Huckabee's strong showing in national and some early state polls, she said, "We are of course encouraging him to run again."

Vander Beek said Huckabee "has made it clear he's not made any decision about the race, but we thought this was a good time to talk to him about it.

"It's been seven years and I don't think a week goes by where I don't talk to somebody who wants to know if the governor will run again.

"Looking at the landscape and the kind of candidate he was and could be again, we felt pretty strongly that we wanted to encourage him to think about it," she said.

While Vander Beek was reluctant to speculate on Huckabee's plans, his close national adviser, Hogan Gidley, told CNN in December he believes Huckabee is more serious about running than he was four years ago.

"It's a different tone and tenure this time than four years ago," said Gidley said. "This is more of a 'I'm-seriously-taking-a-look-at-it' tone."

Vander Beek added, "We are definitely encouraging him to run, to look at the landscape and what he could bring to the race. It was a really good conversation.

"We wanted to let him know that he has a lot of fans in New Hampshire," she said.

"He was very appreciative of the conversation and made it clear he's listening to and talking to people, but as for his thinking, I just don't know."

Huckabee will return to the state on April 12 to appear at the "Freedom Summit" organized by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Citizens United.

(See earlier Granite Status reports elsewhere on this page or by clicking on "Granite Status" above.)

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