SUN CITY CENTER — A welcoming line of fans pouring out of the door of the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce greeted the official Mike Huckabee book-signing tour bus Monday morning.
Part media rock star, part politician, part ordained minister, Huckabee has become a self-branded legend of conservatism, common sense and family values.
The former governor of Arkansas, who ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, just published his 10th book, Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett: A Grandfather's Thoughts on Faith, Family, and the Things That Matter Most.
He is spending the remaining weeks of the year touring the country and promoting his new book, already a hit on the New York Times bestseller list. Huckabee stopped in Tampa Bay to sign copies in Sun City Center and later in the day at Costco in Brandon.
Huckabee, a popular syndicated talk show host on radio and the Fox News Channel, is the father of three grown children. When his grandson, Chandler, was born, Huckabee says he found the role of grandfather more satisfying than anything he had ever done. It inspired him to write letters to Chandler about his life experiences and bittersweet lessons.
A year later when his granddaughter, Scarlett, was born, he knew he had to turn the letters and stories into a book if he couldn't be there to see his grandchildren grow up.
"Every grandparent should pass along something much more than their genetic code," Huckabee said as he autographed his last book. "By the time my grandchildren are old enough to understand and appreciate the things I have to say, I might be gone."
When Huckabee, 57, was growing up in Arkansas, his grandfather died. He never had an adult conversation with him but wishes he had.
"Looking back, I wanted to know about the stuff that was really important to him — the intangibles like family, God and love," Huckabee said. "Those are the thoughts I am leaving to Chandler and Scarlett."
An ordained Baptist minister before his foray into politics and broadcasting, Huckabee blends his spiritualism and sense of Christian values into everything he does professionally, including writing.
Kings Point residents Eva and Lester Hooley came to buy a book for their son-in-law, Larry, a small-business owner who appeared on Huckabee's TV program in 2009 when he was taping in Elkhart, Ind.
"I like his honesty, his common sense and the respect he has for the people listening to him," Eva Hooley said.
Colleen Walker, who bought the book as a Christmas gift for her son in Atlanta, described Huckabee as personable.
"He's someone I would like to have lunch or dinner with," Walker said.
Huckabee spoke briefly about the fiscal cliff the country is facing.
"The working people, the middle class, the retirees and the military will be hurt the most," Huckabee said. "If they don't settle this in Washington, we ought to throw everyone out and start over again."
Kathryn Moscella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.