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Mike Huckabee: Don't put social conservatives in a box

In this Feb. 24, 2011 file photo, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee shakes hands after speaking about his new book at the National Press Club. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) AP Photo/Alex Brandon

NEW ORLEANS - Former presidential candidate and current talk show host Mike Huckabee says he is frustrated that he and his fellow social conservatives are often pigeonholed outside of mainstream conservatism.

"I do not share the idea that people who happen to believe that life is precious and that life still matters, I don't believe those people are somehow marginalized out of the mainstream," the former Arkansas governor told hundreds of conservative activists at the Republican Leadership Conference here.

Huckabee, who says he is not running in 2012, said he doesn't know of social conservatives who are not also both fiscal and national security conservatives.

"I'm tired of people trying to put us in various tents and leave us there as if we're only capable of thinking of one thing at a time," he said, prompting applause from the crowd.

The Fox News personality went on to tie social conservatism to fiscal conservatism, saying that "moral failures in fact do cost us."

Pointing to spending on things like food stamps, Medicaid and prisons, Huckabee said "when the character of a people breaks down, we end up putting more government in place in order to contain the out of control lack of character in those who have failed to live by the simple social contract that the rest of us have decided to live by."

He complained of a "dad deficit," lamenting the fact that many dads are no more than "sperm donors" who leave their wives and children. He said that issue has a direct link to the nation's economic struggles.

"Two thirds of the children who are in poverty in America would not be in poverty if the mothers of those children were married to the fathers of those children," he said.

Huckabee did not weigh in on the Republican presidential candidates in his speech, though he did express disappointment that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour chose not to enter the race. The conference serves as a cattle call for the GOP contenders; among the speakers are Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. (Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are skipping the event; Jon Huntsman canceled citing a cold.)

In something of a break with his party's push to slash spending, Huckabee also called on Republicans to invest in preventive care and cures for disease.

"It's not enough simply to cut taxes and cut tax rates, we need to be a party of innovation and creativity that talks about cutting disease rates and death rates and ending Alzheimer's and cancer in people because I'm telling you, it is the cost of these diseases that is eating our country's economy alive," he said. "And rather than just saying we're going to slash the spending, let's slash the spending because we've eliminated the need by finding the cures."