Is another former governor of Arkansas in our future? Could we possibly have a President Mike? A Vice President Mike?
As scandal swirls around Rudolph Giuliani and his friendship with his indicted former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, and as support for Mitt Romney seems to be stagnating, the compassionate conservative from Arkansas is moving up the track on the inside.
Told that he is now running No. 2 after Romney among Republicans in an NBC poll for the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses to be held Jan. 3, Mike Huckabee responded with delight when Romney immediately stopped ignoring him and jumped on him for supporting merit scholarships for children of illegal immigrants applying for citizenship in Arkansas.
Said Huckabee: “The fact that I am being attacked is a good sign. It’s a sign of life. This is hunting season. I’m a hunter. You don’t ever point your gun at a dead carcass. A lot of folks are pointing at me.”
Just six short sentences, and Huckabee put out a lot of fodder:
1. He is a gun owner.
2. He’s still a player in this election.
3. He’s getting a serious look, at last, by voters not satisfied with the front-runners.
4. Romney seems desperate.
The former Massachusetts governor has been ahead in Iowa for some time, but for the first time Huckabee has pulled relatively close to him. As of mid-November, 27 percent of potential Iowa Republican voters supported Romney and 21 percent supported Huckabee. The next day, Huckabee was in a statistical dead heat with Romney, with 24 percent to Romney’s 26 percent in a Real Clear Politics poll.
While Giuliani heads the GOP field nationwide with a 14-point lead, followed by former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Romney and Huckabee are far down. But at this point, national polls aren’t yet significant.
Romney still has more name recognition, vastly more money and a bigger organization on the ground in Iowa. But it’s news in Iowa when a presidential candidate starts moving up six weeks before the voting starts.
Huckabee for a long time was best known for being a shadow of his former self, having lost 100 pounds. He is now a proselytizer for losing weight, eating right, exercising and staying healthy without being a bore about it (usually). He also plays the guitar and is an enthusiastic rock ‘n’ roll musician. (Really, it’s not a requirement for Arkansas governors.)
Just about everyone who knows the former governor speaks of Huckabee as a “decent guy.” In politics, that is a rare compliment.
He’s also a true conservative, an important credential this year for Republican candidates seeking to win the party’s base. Huckabee is against abortion (he’s marched in National Right to Life demonstrations for 13 years) and opposes same-sex marriages and civil unions. Romney’s past support for abortion rights and gay rights, both of which he now disavows, has caused some conservatives to be skeptical. Giuliani supports gay rights and abortion rights.
Huckabee is for the death penalty, believes in creationism, supports overhauling the income tax and replacing it with a fair tax system, wants the nation’s borders secured, wants to keep Guantanamo Bay open for suspected terrorists, and supports the war in Iraq and President Bush’s current surge operation. When Huckabee ran for a second term in 2002, his wife Janet ran for secretary of state. She lost and now refuses to discuss issues as she campaigns for him.
If Huckabee won Iowa, it would be a national sensation, and he might then be in position to do well or even win in New Hampshire. The resulting spotlight would vault him into immediate contention in other primaries. But even if he doesn’t win Iowa but comes in second, he would be a much stronger candidate and eventually could be a contender for the veep slot. GOP attacks against him have been issue-oriented, not personal.
Huckabee, 52, is a Baptist minister and, like former President Bill Clinton, was born in Hope, Ark. He is known for his efforts in racial reconciliation and for helping the poor. He became governor in 1996 when Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned because of a felony conviction. Huckabee was elected to a full term in 1998 and a second term in 2002, leaving office this past January. In 2005, he was named one of the nation’s five best governors by Time magazine. He is author or co-author of five books: “Character is the Issue,” “Kids Who Kill,” “Living Beyond Your Lifetime,” “Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork” and “From Hope to Higher Ground.”
Huckabee’s snaring the GOP nomination is an unlikely long shot, but some conservative bloggers already are warming to the idea of a face-off between Huckabee and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., next year on grounds it would be clear, unequivocal ideological warfare.
(Columnist AnnMcFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mailamcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)