One of President Obama’s core constituencies in 2008 was independent women, but polling suggests that if Republicans nominate former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2012, Obama may have difficulty with that demographic and winning a second term.
A CNN poll conducted just after the midterm election showed Huckabee defeating Obama in a general-election match-up, 52 percent to 44, while Obama defeated former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) by the inverse, 52 percent to 44 percent.
In a Quinnipiac survey of the 2012 race released on Monday, Huckabee performed 7 percent better than Palin with women in a match-up against Obama, and when it came to favorability ratings, he had a net rating that was 33 percent higher than the former Alaska governor’s.
But that’s assuming Huckabee can actually get to a general election.
The more immediate question is whether he can earn the support of enough Republican women to get there. After all, that’s ostensibly the domain of the Mama Grizzly and her supporters.
In an analysis of 18 state polls released this month by Public Policy Polling measuring GOP preference for the 2012 nomination, women in nine states backed Huckabee over Palin, while women in seven preferred the former governor of Alaska.
The gender gap was sometimes stark. In California, 24 percent of Republican men chose Palin for the nomination, while just 12 percent chose Huckabee. However, women backed Huckabee over Palin, 19 percent to 11.
In Alaska — the headquarters of the Mama Grizzly and the state in which her record-breaking reality show is based — Republican women actually chose Huckabee over the state’s former governor, while Republican men stuck with Palin.
So what is it about Huckabee that makes him more appealing to women?
It’s probably not sex appeal, although dating expert and host of “Millionaire Matchmaker” Patti Stanger stopped by his TV show earlier this year and told the former governor of Arkansas he was “handsome” and dressed “great.”
More likely, it’s his ability to sit down with women of different ideological persuasions and conduct a warm, engaging conversation.
Since his show debuted in 2008, Huckabee has interviewed first lady Michelle Obama, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, HuffingtonPost founder Arianna Huffington and, just last weekend, actress Whoopi Goldberg.
He took particular heat for his sit-down with the first lady, for whom he expressed sympathy in their 20-minute interview.
“There have been so many vile and hateful things said about your husband, said about you — not unlike what the Bush family went through. I think it’s part of the horrors of our political climate today,” he said.
When Huckabee was criticized for the warm interview, he responded: “Some bloggers, it seemed, wanted me to bring her on my show only if I yelled at her. Or it seemed they wanted me to hit her.”
When he interviewed Huffington, he noted their differences, but in a tone that encouraged dialogue.
“We agree, I believe, on the big problem. We may not completely come to terms on how does government fix it.”
Compare that rhetoric with Palin’s, whose approach to political battle often involves casting the landscape in the most strident terms.
In her new book, the former governor slams the “bra-burning militancy” of the feminist movement. Just before the midterm election, she called some members of the media covering the Alaska Senate race “corrupt bastards,” and last week she urged the Transportation Security Administration to “profile away,” in response to anger over screening procedures.
While their ideology may be similar, Huckabee’s and Palin’s tones are quite different. In fact, talk show host Joy Behar — a frequent critic of Palin’s —called Huckabee her “favorite Republican” during a Monday chat on ABC’s “The View.” After watching Huckabee’s interview with Goldberg last week, the left-of-center website Mediaite urged Palin to watch and take “notes” on how to deal effectively with members of the political opposition.
It’s not entirely clear why Huckabee scores so much better among women than Palin, but what is clear is that his strength among them may be why he represents a threat to a Palin bid.
On Monday, conservative columnist David Frum wrote that “Operation Stop Palin” might be centered around the talk show host, and, while in Iowa last weekend, Huckabee himself addressed the idea that he’s a formidable force for the GOP nomination.
“In most of the national polls, I’m either at the top or … near the top,” he pointed out.
And, as we’ve seen, much of that is based on his support among women.
Heinze is the founder of GOP12.com.