SERGEANT BLUFF, Iowa (AP) – On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee will trade jokes with Jay Leno on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

While his rivals will be making a final appeal to the state’s voters, Huckabee will be flying to Los Angeles to tape the show with Leno, who returns to the air Wednesday without striking writers.

“It’s just an incredible opportunity to be there, particularly the very first night he’s back from the writer’s strike,” Huckabee said. “Besides, if all else fails and this whole process doesn’t work out, maybe he needs a sidekick and I’ll be auditioning tomorrow.”

A similar late-night appearance backfired on rival Fred Thompson, the actor-politician who irked voters in New Hampshire by skipping a Republican debate last fall at the University of New Hampshire to announce his candidacy on Leno’s show.

The unconventional move is somewhat fitting for Huckabee who broke with tradition on Monday, eschewing campaigning to go for a run and get a shave and haircut in front of his media entourage. He also held an odd news conference in which he announced he had decided against going negative with a critical TV ad against Republican Mitt Romney – and then played the ad for the media.

Huckabee and Romney are in a close race in Iowa.

Huckabee was back out campaigning Tuesday, flying early on New Year’s Day to Sergeant Bluff, where he urged about 200 people at the Pizza Ranch restaurant to turn out for Thursday’s caucuses.

“I want you to go with a commitment, in essence a fervent spirit, that says I will not only go no matter what the weather, I will take people with me to vote for Mike Huckabee,” he said.

He said he hopes the decision not to air his negative ad was the right one.

“We’ll find out,” Huckabee said. “I know a lot of people are cynical and think we pulled a stunt yesterday. I just decided if that’s what it takes to get elected, that’s a lousy way to run a country.”

In Sergeant Bluff, Huckabee supporter Bob Dunker said he didn’t mind that Huckabee was heading to California.

“I’m thinking it’s OK for him to get national exposure, because when you don’t have money, I think you need to tell your story to America any way you can,” Dunker said. “Hey, when he can be here at 9 o’clock on New Year’s Day talking to us, he can go wherever he wants tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll be back in Iowa Thursday.”


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