Huckabee joins Columbia diners for lunch in low-key campaign visit

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee

COLUMBIA — Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made the rounds at downtown’s No Name Deli Thursday, shaking hands, slapping backs and taking empty seats at the greasy spoon’s wooden booths.

He leaned into one table and asked if he could join.

Sure, said Pat Felmly, a 56-year-old from Columbia who works in health care. She said she was a “fan” of the Arkansas Republican who has made what his staff said was dozens of trips to the Palmetto State so far.

She admitted she knew Huckabee would be there and had ordered lunch and waited for him to make his way to her table, she said later.

Huckabee, in a hushed, easygoing manner, asked Felmly and Guillermo Pineda, a 47-year-old doctor, what they liked for lunch and what was on their minds.

“When are you planning on announcing?” Felmly asked him.

Huckabee already has, at the beginning of May, but he doesn’t get the same exposure as other Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, receive. Bush has not officially announced his bid but has been traveling and speaking to crowds extensively.

Felmly said both Huckabee and Rubio are her favorites so far, Republicans she thought could bring people together.

South Carolina’s February 2016 first-in-the-South primary is months away, but stops like Huckabee’s will soon become commonplace.

Huckabee told reporters outside the lunch spot that he differed from his GOP rivals because he was against a controversial free-trade agreement being debated by Congress. “We need to be bringing jobs to America, not sending them away,” he said.

Huckabee said he couldn’t believe the price for lunch, so he paid double for his black bean soup and chef salad, picking up the tab for the woman behind him. The woman told him she’d vote for him. “I bought a vote today,” Huckabee joked.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.