Officially, Mike Huckabee, winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, was back in the Hawkeye State on Tuesday to headline a dinner sponsored by an influential social conservative group.
Unofficially, the former Republican presidential candidate-turned-Fox News host was there to hold a series of private meetings that lend credence to Huckabee’s own recent declarations that he is “seriously considering” a 2016 bid.
A source close to Huckabee confirmed to ABC News that while in Iowa, Huckabee met behind closed doors with Gov. Terry Branstad, a fellow Republican, and other state GOP leaders and officials. In addition, he also huddled with several members of his 2008 campaign team based in the state.
His message to those he encountered Tuesday, according to the source familiar with the discussions, was clear: Keep your powder dry.
In a small state where operatives get snatched up by would-be White House aspirants long before the official start of campaign season, Huckabee was asking former — and possibly future — backers to hold off before committing to someone else.
Then again, Huckabee sent similar signals ahead of the last presidential election, but ultimately decided not to run, announcing in dramatic fashion on his Fox program in May 2011 that “all the factors say go, but my heart says no.”
‘He’s more serious than I thought’
Nevertheless, at least two of the Iowans that the former Arkansas governor spoke with privately on Tuesday came away from the meetings more convinced he might pull the trigger this time.
“He’s thinking about it,” one of Huckabee’s former Iowa advisers, Susan Geddes, told the Associated Press. “I think he’s more serious than I thought.”
And, after spending some “one-on-one” time with him, Iowa-based conservative talk radio host and columnist Steve Deace was musing in a Facebook post not about “if” Huckabee runs but “when.”
“I don’t think you’ll hear him running as representing a faction or ideology like we did in 2008 when he was running to be the conservative alternative to Romney-McCain,” Deace wrote. “I think he is going to run what amounts to a general election campaign from day one. He believes he’ll have real resources this time, and that he’s so well known he can make his case directly to the voters regardless of what certain groups/factions think of him.”
Deace added that during their conversation, “he also made it clear he’s not going to be in the business of ‘tearing down’ the other GOP presidential candidates.”
‘I’m not a hater. I’m not homophobic’
During his speech last night at an Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering held at an evangelical Christian church in Waukee, Iowa, Huckabee struck familiar social conservative themes, including portraying his opposition to gay marriage as being on “the right side of the Bible.”
“Unless God rewrites it, edits it, sends it down with his signature on it, it’s not my book to change,’” Huckabee said, according to news reports of the event, adding, “I’m not against anybody — I’m really not. I’m not a hater. I’m not homophobic.”
A Des Moines Register poll taken in late February showed that in Iowa, Huckabee led other potential GOP hopefuls with 44 percent of Iowans saying that it would be a good idea for the former pastor to take another shot at the White House. Paul Ryan trailed with 41 percent; Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum followed with 33 percent each.
And Iowa is not the only stop on the early 2016 circuit for Huckabee this week. On Saturday, he will head to New Hampshire to address a summit sponsored by the conservative groups, Citizens United and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, along with several other potential presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
ABC News’ Ryan Struyk contributed to this report.