Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee entered stage right at the Oscar Frazier Community Center Friday, greeting supporters with a string of jokes and a push for his health care and tax overhaul plans.
"What did you think, they were going to feed you or something?" he asked the crowd of about 200 local AARP members who came to hear him speak on health care and financial security.
The 52-year-old Republican casually answered questions and seemed to charm the crowd.
It was his first visit to Bluffton and part of a three-day tour of South Carolina, where he's recently jumped to the top of the polls among Republican voters, according to various polls, including one by CNN.
At the community center, Huckabee urged a revolutionary overhaul of the country's health care system and said a "Humpty-Dumpty philosophy" of waiting until Americans fall off the wall before insurance will pay is "insanity."
Huckabee supports a preventive approach that would empower Americans to design their own health insurance plans with provisions that pay for nutritionist visits or gym memberships.
"America is like an NFL football game on Sunday afternoon," he said. "There are plenty of people down on the field in desperate need of rest, but several thousand in the stands are in desperate need of exercise."
Huckabee also talked about his support of the Fair Tax initiative, which would replace federal income taxes with a national sales tax. Financing Social Security, then, would not come out of Americans' wages, he said, but from the Fair Tax.
"Ten thousand (people) a day go into the Social Security system because of the baby boomers," Huckabee said. "And here's the best part: Wait until all the aging hippies find out they get free drugs. ... Fair Tax creates a more stable funding stream than our current system."
Huckabee said the tax is a way to address the nation's debt because it would stimulate the economy. He also said Congress needs to control spending.
Those attending the event seemed pleased with what Huckabee had to say. Some said they came because he's a Christian; Huckabee was a Baptist preacher for 12 years before becoming governor of Arkansas.
Others said they came to hear his stance on the issues.
Hilton Head Island resident Wayne Carbiener, 71, said there's a good chance he'll vote for Huckabee; Carbiener likes the Fair Tax.
Bluffton resident Angela D'Aquila, 68, said she likes his ideas on health care and was impressed by his speech.
"He sounds to me like a statesman," she said. "And, he doesn't just see Democrats or Republicans. He sees us as a whole."
Huckabee rounds out the list of leading Republicans who have visited the Lowcountry in advance of the S.C. Republican presidential primary Jan. 19.
Among Democrats, only Barack Obama hasn't been to the area. He will be appearing in Columbia Sunday.