Gov. Mike Huckabee on Fox News Channel today

Fresh from victory in the Iowa caucuses last night, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee defended his bone fides, calling talk-host Rush Limbaugh’s claim that he’s not a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan “ridiculous.”

The former Arkansas governor, who began a long-shot campaign with single-digit support, captured 34 percent of the vote to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 25 percent.

But on the Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” this morning, Huckabee was asked to respond to doubts about his candidacy raised by the conservative icon Limbaugh.

“Rush Limbaugh says you are not a true conservative in the spirit of Ronald Reagan,” said Fox host Steve Doocy. “What do you say to Rush Limbaugh?”

Huckabee responded: “I was out there supporting Ronald Reagan when he was last place in the polls. I was one of the people that was part of the Reagan revolution in late ’79 and early 1980 when the frontrunners were John Connelly and Howard Baker and George Bush.

“I find that ridiculous,” Huckabee said of Limbaugh’s charge. “I believe in the things like a strong national defense, less government, lower taxes. I believe in the integrity of small business, knowing that’s where 80 percent of our jobs come from, that we need to champion those small business owners and give them an opportunity to succeed without the government stepping all over them.”

Responding to a caller yesterday prior to the caucuses, Limbaugh said he was not ready to endorse any candidate but felt it necessary to explain further his opposition to Huckabee.

“I think he’s a fine man. He’s just not a conservative,” Limbaugh said. “And this is what, to be quite honest with you, offends me greatly with this attempt to compare him to Ronald Reagan.”

In the Fox interview, Huckabee argued, “I’m also pro-life, I’m pro-Second Amendment, I believe in the 10th Amendment – let there be more power in the states, less in the centralized federal government.”

“Now if that’s not conservative, somebody needs to hand me a new book and show me what conservatism is about,” he insisted.

Contrasting his views with Huckabee’s record as governor, Limbaugh said, “I don’t support open borders and amnesty. I don’t support the release of hundreds of criminals. … I don’t support repeated increases in taxes. I don’t support national health care, whether you call it a children’s program or whatever it is. I don’t support anti-war rhetoric. I don’t support Republican candidates trashing the war in Iraq when we’re winning it. I don’t support Republican candidates claiming the president doesn’t read the National Intelligence Estimates as an excuse for him not knowing what the hell is in one. And that’s Governor Huckabee.”

Limbaugh was referring to Huckabee, when asked by reporters last month, being unaware of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear capacity. The talk host also criticized Huckabee for wanting “to treat the modern-day equivalent of the Soviet Union with the Golden Rule,” referring to the former governor’s emphasis on negotiating with powers seeking to advance radical Islam, such as Iran.

“That’s not how Reagan did it,” Limbaugh said. “You could argue that Huckabee’s approach is worthwhile this time. I’m not going to argue with you about that if you want to say that, but don’t tell me he’s Ronald Reagan.”

Huckabee emphasized to Fox News his admiration of the nation’s No.1-rated talk-radio host.

“I love Rush Limbaugh,” he said. “I think he’s one of the great voices for American conservatism, and I’m not sure what information he is basing those thoughts on, but I think he’s been one of the great voices to help people understand what conservatism is.”

Huckabee said he’s “been a big fan of his show for many years, and I hope to make it so that someday he loves me as much as I love him.”

Asked if he would try to contact Limbaugh, Huckabee said he’s sent phone and e-mails messages and looks forward to getting a response.

On his show yesterday, Limbaugh argued Huckabee “raised more taxes in 10 years in office as governor than Bill Clinton did in his 12 years as governor.”

“So I really want you all to understand here that you can try to sell me on Huckabee in a number of ways, but don’t – don’t! – tell me that he’s Reagan,” Limbaugh said.

“Don’t tell me that Mitt Romney is Reagan, and don’t tell me that John McCain is Reagan, and don’t tell me that Rudy Giuliani is Reagan, and don’t tell me that Fred Thompson is Reagan, and don’t tell me that Ron Paul is Reagan, because they aren’t.”

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