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WASHINGTON — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told fellow Republicans on Thursday that rival Democrats were trying to win over women voters by promising them free birth control and telling them “They cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.”

Huckabee made the comment as he was making a pitch that the GOP needs to broaden its appeal and end its internal divisiveness.

Huckabee, a favorite of Christian conservatives and a Fox News personality, gave his speech to whet the 168-member Republican National Committee’s appetite for a Huckabee 2016 campaign.

“I think it’s time Republicans no longer accept listening to the Democrats talk about a ‘war on women,’ ” he said. “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.”

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Huckabee’s remark won a quick rebuke from the Obama administration. White House press secretary Jay Carney said it “sounds offensive to me and to women.”

The remark could resurrect the very thing he was inveighing against, a war on women that Democrats have said is evidenced by Republican policies and statements. Not the least of them occurred in 2012, when Todd Akin, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, said he opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest because, he suggested, it was rare for a rape victim to become pregnant.

Huckabee’s take on reproductive rights highlighted one of his many hurdles in expanding his appeal beyond Christian conservatives.

As part of Democrats’ national health-care law, insurers have to provide no-cost contraception, something Huckabee said was pandering.

Religious groups, in particular, have opposed the measure as running counter to their faith.

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are hopeless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them with their prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it,” Huckabee said, echoing comments he has made on his Fox News program.

Female voters in 2012 sided with Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney, 55 to 44 percent. The GOP has struggled to win back female voters.

Huckabee, who ran for the White House in 2008, is seriously weighing another White House run.

Advisers say he won’t make any decisions until after he sees the results of the 2014 midterm congressional elections and how GOP candidates fare in races for governor.

Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.

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