Mike Huckabee isn't afraid to talk about abortion and poverty, and he thinks his fellow Republicans shouldn't be either.
In an address during the Republican National Committee's winter meeting Thursday in Washington, Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor considering mounting a second presidential run in 2016, said Republicans need to embrace two key issues Democrats hope to seize on in the next two election cycles.
Huckabee, a favorite among evangelical Christians, said it's time Republicans reject the Democrats' charge that they are waging a "war on women." Rather, he said the GOP is fighting a "war for women" by advocating for a lesser role for government.
"The Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the government," Huckabee said.
Huckabee's suggestion that Democrats don't think women can "control their libido" immediately sparked controversy, with opponents decrying it as another example of the GOP's insensitivity. White House spokesman Jay Carney called the comments "offensive."
But they hardly seemed to bother most Republicans in attendance, most of whom praised the onetime governor's message.
Some Republicans want the party to tone down its rhetoric on social issues and emphasize economic ones in order to appeal to a wider swath of the electorate. But Iowa Republican Party Chairman A.J. Spiker said the party needs to go on offense in the abortion and contraception debate, and that Huckabee is a prime example of how to do that.
"He is a great person to deliver that message," Spiker said.
Henry Barbour, a Mississippi RNC member and nephew of former Gov. Haley Barbour, agreed that Republicans can't run away from the issue, but warned the party needs to avoid being "shrill" when talking about it.
"Tone is important," Barbour said.
Huckabee also said Republicans should welcome the debate on income inequality President Obama has called for, arguing that poverty has only gotten worse under the Democrats' watch. He called for "a country whose economy is based on the notion that if you are willing to work and work hard you can get ahead and it's not the government's boot that's in your face every time you try to get out of the hole."
While Huckabee isn't considered to be a front-runner for the GOP's presidential nomination — in part because of his more conservative stance on social issues — Spiker and Barbour contended he could be a force to be reckoned with due to his affability, communication skills, and experience both in office and as a former candidate.
Barbour said Huckabee is "underestimated" heading into 2016, while Spiker called him a "solid contender."
He added, "I just don't run into people who don't like Mike."