Downplaying a joke he made earlier this year about transgender people, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Wednesday that he believes voters are more concerned about his thoughts on other issues such as the economy.
The former Arkansas governor, who returned to his home state for a fundraising swing, declined to elaborate on the comments he made during a speech in February to the National Religious Broadcasters Association in Nashville. During those remarks, Huckabee objected to local ordinances that he said would allow transgender people access to restrooms based on their gender identity.
"Now I wish someone had told me when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE," Huckabee said in the speech, which was first reported Tuesday by Buzzfeed. "I'm pretty sure I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.' You're laughing because it sounds so ridiculous, doesn't it?"
The February comments have drawn widespread attention after Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner, made her debut as a transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair. Huckabee, a former Fox News host, said the only people focused on the comments are the media.
"What people talk to me about is not some speech I made four months ago, and it's not some cultural issue," Huckabee told reporters before a fundraiser in downtown Little Rock. "People talk to me about the loss of their job, they talk to me about the threats to this country, and that's what I'm focused on. It's why I'm running for president. It's not to entertain the masses with comments on the culture news of the day."
An ordained Baptist minister, Huckabee is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and abortion who won the Iowa caucuses and several state primaries in his unsuccessful 2008 White House bid. Huckabee's three-day fundraising tour includes stops in Jonesboro, El Dorado and Texarkana, and his campaign didn't say how much it expected to raise during the events.
Huckabee said he was pleased Arkansas last week approved moving up its primary from May to March, part of an effort to create a regional nominating contest the supporters have dubbed the "SEC primary."
"It makes Arkansas and the other southern states, which are critical to the election of a Republican president, it makes them real players in the primary process," Huckabee said. "I would like to think most Arkansans would like to be a part of helping pick the nominees for their respective parties, be they Democrat or Republican."