As former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee soared to first place in polls among Republican presidential candidates in Iowa and to second place in many national polls, he is being gifted with both opportunity and further scrutiny.
Huckabee found himself this weekend explaining proposals he made during his disastrous 1992 Senate race, when he suggested AIDS patients be quarantined. For the most part, Huckabee defended his views from 17 years ago.
In an Associated Press survey from 1992, Huckabee suggested that the government isolate AIDS patients from the rest of the populace.
"If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague," he wrote. "It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."
Saturday evening, at a brief press conference in Asheville, N.C., Huckabee explained his quarantine proposal.
"Fifteen years ago, the AIDS crisis was just that, a crisis," he said. "There was still a great deal of, I think, uncertainty about just how widespread AIDS was, how it could be transmitted. So we know more now than we did in 1992, all of us do -- hopefully."
Four years before Huckabee's statement, however, President Ronald Reagan's surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, sent out a brochure (http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/QQ/B/D/R/L/_/qqbdrl.pdf) about AIDS to American homes in which Koop wrote, "No matter what you may have heard, the AIDS virus is hard to get and is easily avoided. You won't just catch AIDS like a cold or flu because the virus is a different type. The AIDS virus is transmitted through sexual intercourse, the sharing of drug needles or to babies of infected mothers before or during birth."
And two years before, in 1990, President George H. W. Bush had signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program into law to care for those suffering from the disease. The bill had passed the Senate 95-4.
Huckabee made it clear that he would not have voted for those funds.
"In light of the extraordinary funds already being given for AIDS research, it does not seem that additional federal spending can be justified," he said.
He suggested that the money come from celebrities who championed the cause.
"An alternative," he said, "would be to request that multimillionaire celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor[,] Madonna and others who are pushing for more AIDS funding be encouraged to give out of their own personal treasuries increased amounts for AIDS research."
Asked about those words this weekend, Huckabee clarified, "I didn't say I wasn't for funding, but the question was, was I for additional funding. And I mentioned that there were a lot of diseases we needed to fight, and that included diabetes and heart disease. And I would add to that Alzheimer's and a whole host of diseases that affect a lot of American families. To single out one disease as the only one we're going to increase funding for to the exclusion of the others was wrong then and I think it would be wrong now. Do I support additional funding for HIV/AIDS? Yes."
Huckabee has stated via his campaign's Web site that if elected, his administration would be the first ever to support a comprehensive program to battle the disease -- "with a partnership between the public and private sectors that will provide necessary financing and a realistic path toward our goals."
In that same 1992 questionnaire, Huckabee wrote that "homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk."
Saturday in North Carolina, Huckabee stood his ground and said he believed that homosexuality is sinful and is not normal behavior; that it "is outside the boundaries of man/woman relationship and its tradition of marriage."
As far as it being a health risk, as he believed in the 1992 survey, he backed off just a bit.
"There are lots of obvious changes in what we understand about transmission today that we didn't understand in 1992," he said.
Huckabee's views were at odds with the majority of Americans at the time. In a University of Michigan study from November 1992, 61 percent of Americans favored increased federal funding for AIDS research, 29 percent said it should be kept at the same level and 8 percent said it should be decreased. And in an April 1991 Harris poll, only 14 percent of Americans agreed that AIDS patients should be quarantined "to keep them away from the general public"; 85 percent disagreed.
Huckabee's rise in the polls has been followed by increased scrutiny by opponents and the media. Two days after the Des Moines Register proclaimed him first in its Iowa poll, the former Baptist minister was unable to answer any questions about the recent National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran had suspended its nuclear program. More than a day after the NIE had been released, Huckabee not only hadn't read it, he hadnt even heard about it.
In Columbus, Ohio, Friday, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., slammed his GOP rival.
"Not only is Iran the major long-term threat to our country, the nuclear program is the most important part of the Iran consideration," Thompson said. "For a presidential candidate not to know that and not to keep up with that is very surprising. These are the kinds of things I've been talking about all of my life."
Thompson then took direct aim at Huckabee, who despite meager campaign funds and a skeletal campaign staff, leads Thompson in polls of Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"If the American people have other priorities, if they want someone who smiles a lot more than I do, or someone who is a better quipster than I am, who has no experience in these areas, that's for the American people to decide," Thompson said.
ABC News' Gary Langer contributed to this report.