Former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called for a system allowing more immigrants to go through legal channels and for increased scrutiny on imported goods on Thursday morning.
Huckabee fielded questions from the crowd of around 100 in the Crowne Plaza Hotel. They pressed him on global pressures, such as immigration and outsourcing, after his opening speech.
Republicans usually push for fewer restrictions on trade and Democrats for more scrutiny on imported goods, but Huckabee argued that was a losing strategy. He noted the recent outcry over reports of dangerous imported goods, especially toys made in China.
"When Republicans sell out to the Chinese, or sell out to anybody, we set ourselves up to get beat next year," he said.
The audience also questioned him on illegal immigration, a worry voiced at many Republican events.
"It's not just people who come here to pick lettuce," Huckabee said. "It's about people who might come with a shoulder-fired missile launcher."
He wants a quicker way for immigrants to apply for legal status as temporary workers. He said that would allow for background checks to screen for potential threats and lead to easier enforcement of immigration laws.
The presidential-nomination hopeful currently trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Iowa polls and is neck-and-neck with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. Close to front-runner status in Iowa is relatively new for the candidate who dwelled in the low single-digits before August's Straw Poll in Ames. Many credit Huckabee's second-place finish in the Straw Poll for lifting his profile in Iowa, especially among conservatives.
Despite his socially conservative platform and background as a former Baptist minister, several major conservative leaders recently endorsed other candidates. Evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Bob Jones III recently endorsed Giuliani and Romney respectively.
Former presidential-nomination candidate Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., chose to back Ariz. Sen. John McCain. Earlier in the campaign, conservative leaders said that Brownback and Huckabee were targeting the same group of conservative voters.
"John McCain can have Sam; I'll take his supporters," Huckabee said after the event.
During the speech, Huckabee often paused to chat with the crowd, and at one point he stopped to joke with a woman when her cell phone rang.
Lowell Phelps saw that as a good sign.
"Most politicians can't do that," the Cedar Rapids native said, adding it would help him in general election against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., if they both won their respective races. "If there's a button that comes out that says, 'Anybody but Hillary,' I'd buy it."
Jeff Humpleby from Coralville liked that Huckabee covered atypical issues.
"There have been other conservative candidates who have all leaned upon conservative values," Humpleby said. "When was the last time you heard a presidential candidate talk about music and the arts?"
© 2007 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE