Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a favorite of conservatives, will take the first step in a 2008 presidential bid, an official told The Associated Press.
Huckabee, 51, plans to file papers on Monday establishing an exploratory committee that will allow him to raise money and hire campaign staff, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity Friday to avoid pre-empting a formal announcement.
Huckabee faces difficult odds as he enters a crowded Republican field topped by better-known, better-funded candidates such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
All three have spent the last few months building their national campaign organizations, courting fundraisers and lining up grass-roots supporters in primary and caucus states. However, they also have records or positions on social or fiscal issues that do not sit well with conservative voters _ and that could give Huckabee an opening.
"My brand of conservatism is not an angry hostile brand. It's one that says 'conservative' means we want to conserve the best of our culture, society, principles and values and pass them on," the former Southern Baptist minister said last month.
Huckabee is not the only conservative in the field and he faces a fierce fight for the support of the Republican Party's right flank, a crucial voting bloc in the nominating contests.
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a favorite son of the religious right, is already in the race and other conservatives, such as California Rep. Duncan Hunter and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, will be battling for their share of the vote.
Still, Huckabee is hoping history can repeat itself. He was born in Hope, Arkansas, and was governor for a small state for many years. It was a story line that worked for Democrat and former President Bill Clinton in 1992.
Huckabee left office Jan. 9 after serving 10 1/2 years as governor of a Democratic-leaning state; he was ineligible to seek re-election because of term limits. During his tenure, he repeatedly had to defend himself against slips of the tongue and ethics controversies.
Arkansas' Ethics Commission has admonished Huckabee for violations five times in 14 years, once for taking money from an organization whose donors have never been listed. He jokingly attributed his weight loss to a "concentration camp" diet and once called his state a "banana republic."
In November, he lashed out at reporters who questioned wedding-gift registries set up to furnish Huckabee's new $525,000 (euro406,900) home in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Friends had set up the accounts for Huckabee and his wife Janet, who have been married since 1974.
Nationally, Huckabee is perhaps best known for his dramatic weight loss and his emphasis on healthy lifestyles. He shed 110 pounds after being diagnosed with diabetes. He also saw his political profile rise when he headed the National Governors Association for one term.
Since he left office, Huckabee has been on a nationwide tour to tout his book, "From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 Stops to Restoring America's Greatness." With chapters on taxes and foreign policy, Huckabee's book lays out his potential talking points for a presidential campaign.
Associated Press Writer Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock contributed to this report.