(CNN) - There's a likely GOP 2012 presidential candidate who is a former governor, darling of the party's conservative base, and the leader of nearly every early presidential poll.
And his name is not Sarah Palin.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose upstart presidential campaign toppled Mitt Romney in Iowa and nearly brought down John McCain in South Carolina last year, wants people to know he's every bit as serious as other potential presidential aspirants, and suggested there's a double standard when it comes to how some in his party treat him and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"Some of the people who had excoriated me and really been very dismissive of me for views that I had taken, and labeled me anything from a populist to an ignoramus - the same people have been very defensive [of] and laudatory to Sarah Palin," Huckabee told Politico in an article published Monday.
I'm a very serious person," he also said. "I may not be dour, but I'm serious."
The former two-term Arkansas governor has expressed criticism of Palin before, suggesting her abrupt resignation of the Alaska governorship may suggest she's not ready to handle the pressures of a hardscrabble presidential primary campaign.
"If she's looking to be a national political figure, it's not going to get easier," he said in July. "In a primary this is going to be an issue she'll have to face. Will she be able to withstand the pressure?"
In many respects, Huckabee should be considered the early favorite in what already appears to be a crowded field of 2012 Republican contenders. He consistently leads Palin and his old rival Romney in presidential polls and has maintained a legion of faithful followers. He's also out with a new book this month and a concurrent book tour through some of the country's most conservative townships - including some in politically important Iowa.
Huckabee was also the winner of a recent Values Voter Summit straw poll, grabbing nearly 29 percent of the vote in a crowded field that, in addition to Palin and Romney, included Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Washington (CNN) - White House National Security Adviser Retired Gen. Jim Jones issued a rare public statement Monday vehemently denying media reports suggesting President Obama has privately decided to send close to 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as tensions between the White House and Pentagon appear to be flaring up over exactly what the president will announce.
"Reports that President Obama has made a decision about Afghanistan are absolutely false," Jones, who generally keeps a low public profile, said in a prepared statement Monday night. "He has not received final options for his consideration, he has not reviewed those options with his national security team, and he has not made any decisions about resources. Any reports to the contrary are completely untrue and come from uninformed sources."
The statement was issued shortly after CBS News' veteran Pentagon Correspondent David Martin reported that Obama has "tentatively decided" to send four more combat brigades to Afghanistan and several thousand more support troops starting early next year. That would bring the total number of new troops to close to the 40,000 figure originally requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Two other senior administration officials flatly told CNN that the CBS report and other similar speculation is false. The Associated Press reported Monday that Obama is "nearing a decision to add tens of thousands more forces to Afghanistan, though not quite the 40,000 sought [by] his top general there."
Washington (CNN) - In a sign that the wrenching House debate over abortion is already vexing Senate Democrats, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson told CNN Monday he will vote against any health care bill that does not include the strict abortion restrictions that passed the House.
"If there's public money going to fund abortions, I can't support it, period, no matter what else is in it," said Nelson, a staunchly anti-abortion Democrat.
The House approved a health care bill Saturday night that prohibits abortion coverage in a government-run plan, and in private plans that accept anyone using government subsidies to buy insurance coverage. People would be permitted to by supplemental coverage with their own money that includes covers abortions.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, a leading abortion rights voice in the Senate, told CNN Monday that approach was "radical" and "unfair to women," and said she will meet with a group of female senators Tuesday to start looking for a way to limit abortion restrictions in the Senate health care bill.
New York (CNN) - Republican Gov. Jodi Rell of Connecticut will not seek re-election, according to spokesperson Rich Harris.
Rell, 63, was the first Republican woman to be elected governor of Connecticut.
Rell, who took office in 2007, still enjoys a relatively high approval rating in her state. "Nearly six out of 10 people approve of the job Rell is doing as governor, according to the most recent state public opinion survey, which was conducted in September," according to CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser. "While that's down about 15 points from earlier this year, most likely due to Connecticut's budget problems, it's still a number any incumbent politician would be happy to have."
Democrat Ned Lamont, who defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary but lost to him in the general election, is currently exploring a potential gubernatorial run.
(Updated 7:30 pm ET with additional information)
Boston, Massachusetts (CNN) - If you look at his travel schedule crisscrossing the country, you might think Mitt Romney was still running for office.
Since February, he has attended nine events for senatorial candidates, appeared at more than a dozen rallies or fundraisers for those running for governor this year or next, and spoken at almost two dozen meetings of Republican Party groups or conservative organizations. And he has finished a new book.
"This is a pivotal time in the history of our country," Romney said recently at his political action committee's office.
As the Republican Party searches for ways to rebound from its recent losses and leaders who can be turned to, Romney clearly is trying to position himself to be one of them.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama will speak at Tuesday's memorial service for the shooting victims at Fort Hood Army Post in Texas, and will meet with victims' families, his spokesman said.
"The president will meet with families of those that lost a loved one last week, as well as speak to the larger memorial that will take place at the base," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in his daily briefing Monday.
First lady Michelle Obama will accompany the president on the trip, Gibbs said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Where does the battle for health care reform go from here? More importantly, what does it mean for you?
Democrats made history over the weekend when the House of Representativesapproved the biggest expansion of medical coverage since Medicare was enacted over four decades ago. President Barack Obama now stands closer to realizing the Democratic dream of universal coverage than any of his White House predecessors since Harry Truman after World War II.
But top Democrats know that it is far too early to celebrate. The road to final passage of health care legislation is still long and bumpy.
The more conservative Senate - where it is much easier for the GOP minority to stifle the will of the Democratic majority - has yet to pass its own version of a health care bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada last week signaled uncertainty over whether that will happen this year.
If the Senate manages to pass a bill, a congressional conference committee will need to merge the House and Senate proposals into a consensus version requiring final approval from each chamber before moving to Obama's desk to be signed into law.
(CNN) - Sarah Palin is returning to the two words widely credited with helping to spur angry town-halls on health care reform over the summer: "death panels."
In a Facebook post over the weekend, the former Alaska governor launched into a torrent of criticism about the recently-passed House health care reform bill, including the notion "bureaucratic panels" will ultimately decide who lives and who dies.
"We had been told there were no 'death panels' in the bill either," Palin wrote in the post. "But look closely at the provision mandating bureaucratic panels that will be calling the shots regarding who will receive government health care."
Palin initially backed the death panel claim early last August in comments that sparked many of her supporters, and critics of the health care reform bill as a whole, to publicly express their disapproval at heated town-hall forums across the country.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A coalition of unions, liberal interest groups and other organizations is providing air cover for 20 House Democrats who voted this past weekend in favor of the Democratic leadership's health care reform bill.
The umbrella group Health Care for America Now and one of its larger members, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, are spending $650,000 to run the ads for one week in each of the Democrats' congressional districts "thanking them for theirvote," said Jacki Schechner, spokeswoman for HCAN.
All but two of the Democrats were elected in 2006, 2008 or 2009 and several of them only won by slim margins. The two Democrats elected prior to 2006 included in this ad campaign are Rep. Tim Bishop of New York (2002) and Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa (1996). The National Republican Congressional Committee has already announced plans to target Democratic members over their vote in favor of the health care bill.
Schechner also said that another one of HCAN's members, Americans United for Change, will thank 10 more members in TV ads, bringing the total amount spent on this campaign to $1 million.
See the ad and the list of 20 Democrats.
(CNN) - The conservative Club For Growth formally endorsed former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio Monday over the Republican Party's choice of current Gov. Charlie Crist in that state's Senate primary race, setting the stage for what again could be a bitter intra-party battle within the GOP.
"Marco Rubio is the real deal, one of the brightest young stars in American politics today, and a proven champion of economic liberty," Club President Chris Chocola said in a statement. "He is a dynamic spokesman for the principles of limited government and economic freedom, and he will make a fantastic senator."
The endorsement is not surprising, especially after The group launched a television ad last week attacking Crist for claiming recently on CNN he did not endorse President Obama's stimulus measure back in February. In fact, Crist did attend a rally with the president during which he hailed the measure as one that will "reignit[e] the economy."
"Charlie Crist has repeatedly joined with big government liberals on major economic issues facing America today, from taxes to spending to cap-and-trade," Chocola said. "He represents the wrong direction for our economy and our nation."
The endorsement comes weeks after The Club spent upwards of $1 million in a special New York congressional election on behalf of a third-party conservative over the Republican Party-backed candidate. When the Democrat ultimately won what had been a longtime reliably Republican district, those conservatives faced fire from some in the GOP for language that seemed to push moderates away.