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Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and the Gipper

January 11, 2008 |  4:07 pm

DETROIT -- When you look at the list of Republican presidential candidates, Fred Thompson is closer to "endangered species" than he is to "top-tier threat." But Mike Huckabee got in a nice little shot at his rival anyway during a news conference here this afternoon.

After speaking to the Detroit Economic Club -- a powerful group of industrial and business leaders -- Huckabee met with reporters in a back room of the Masonic Temple, a grand building in the middle of one of Detroit's toughest neighborhoods.

In response to a question about what happens to the soul of the Republican Party if Huckabee's populism brings in working-class conservatives, Huckabee said, "The soul is once again recaptured as the soul of America. Our party ought to be the party of everybody." Of course, working-class conservatives -- the famous "Reagan Democrats" -- helped put Ronald Reagan in the White House.

Then Huckabee offered a little history, playing off Thompson's mention of Reagan ...

during the Thursday night debate from South Carolina.

"Fred Thompson supported Gerald Ford in 1976 and not Ronald Reagan," Huckabee said. "He supported Howard Baker in 1980 and not Ronald Reagan. I appreciate his recent conversion, but some of us were for Ronald Reagan back in the early days."

And, Huckabee said, Reagan was hardly the establishment candidate:

"He was anything but. He was the candidate that bothered a lot of the establishment Republicans, and they thought he was going to ruin the party. In fact, they thought he already had. Now, he's the icon of the party."

Unmentioned by Huckabee is that "establishment Republicans" aren't exactly Huckabee's demographic either.

It's been nearly 20 years since Reagan was in the White House, and the party is still fighting over who gets to wear his mantle.

-- Scott Martelle