Get to Know Mike Huckabee

Charles Gibson's private look at presidential hopefuls.

Oct. 18, 2007— -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was born into a blue-collar family, the son of a firefighter father who on in his days off worked as a mechanic, and a mother who worked as a clerk at a gas company.

Huckabee grew up in Hope, Ark., a town his family has lived in since the early 1800s, the same hometown as Arkansas governor-turned-president Bill Clinton.

"You know, people say all the time, do you really think that some obscure, unknown governor born in Hope, Ark,, has any chance to be president of the United States? Fortunately, that question's already been answered," Huckabee told ABC's Charles Gibson.

Gibson spoke with Huckabee as part of a new ABC News series called "Who Is," which features one interview a week with a presidential candidate from now until December, with the focus on their private lives.

When he was a child, Huckabee's family was like many in the 1950s Deep South, living paycheck to paycheck.

"It was probably not until I was a teenager that I realized how much of a struggle it was just to pay the rent on the little rent house that we lived in, in Hope, Ark."

His parents dreamed of a better life for their son.

"My father had never finished high school, nor his father, nor his, and I was the first male in my entire family lineage to even graduate from high school," Huckabee said. His parents pushed him, as did the rest of the town.

"I was so blessed to have teachers and a community," he said. "Hope was more than a geographic place. It was really a spirit, it was an attitude. And people kind of looked after each other."

In 1973, Huckabee was accepted into Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. Right after his freshman year, an 18-year-old Huckabee married his high school sweetheart, Janet, who also attended OBU.

In college, Huckabee began to explore his diverse interests. He worked during the week as a rock 'n' roll DJ on the radio, then spent the weekends preaching at a Baptist church. Still, he managed to complete his four-year degree program in religion in just two-and-a-half years. He enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas before becoming a pastor for 12 years, almost by accident.

"In 1980, a church in Arkansas asked me to come and speak for them, and I did. Then they asked me to come back and speak again, and I did. Then they said, you know we're without a pastor. Why don't you be our interim pastor, which means you, you speak every Sunday until we find somebody to do it permanently. And after about four months, they said, why don't you just stay? And that's how I became a pastor."

Preaching was more than a vocation to Huckabee. It helped him to see the world differently.

"I think I saw life from a perspective that no other person sees from the cradle to the grave. And there's not a social pathology that exists in this country that I couldn't put a name and a face to, not one," he said. "If you want to discuss a 14-year-old who's pregnant and hadn't told her parents, I talked to her. The young couple struggling because they are so overwhelmed with debt and they're struggling to keep their marriage together, those are the people I saw every week."

Huckabee first sought public office in 1991 when he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost. Two years later, he threw his hat in the ring again, this time for lieutenant governor in Arkansas, and won. When running a second time for Senate, then Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned because of the Whitewater scandal. Huckabee withdrew from the Senate race to become governor.

While governor, Huckabee confronted a personal problem that had dogged him for a while -- his weight. At the worst point, he weighed close to 300 pounds. It is a problem that most of the nation can relate to, he said.

"I'm simply a person who's characteristic of a whole nation of people who are underexercised and grossly overfed." But to his chagrin, he accepted his weight.

"I had accepted that I was sort of destined to be this way and there was nothing I could do and I was going to live and die this way. I'd come to that place. But deep down inside of me, I wasn't happy about that. I wanted to be able to go to the store and buy something off the rack that actually fit. Of course, I wanted those things."

So the governor decided to change.

"It was actually a conversation with my doctor," Huckabee said. "He told me, and I'll never forget. He said if you don't change your lifestyle, you're entering the last decade of your life. And then he did me the biggest favor that a doctor could do for a patient. He described that last decade."

Huckabee lost the weight, 110 pounds of it, and has even run in four marathons. He started the Healthy Arkansas initiative, an effort to get the state to live healthier lives.

But he did not change everything. He kept the promise he made to himself as a kid to be a rock star who never grows up. Every once in a while, he picks up his guitar and plays in his band, Capitol Offense.