What the Huckabee decision means

The political world caught its breath over the weekend regarding Mike Huckabee’s decision not to seek the Republican nomination for the presidency. To many, it was a non-news event. They had predicted all along the former Arkansas governor was just too cozy in his popular TV environment to hit the hustings in what promises to be a smash-mouth affair.
 
Let’s acknowledge that point. Let’s also acknowledge that this GOP race is wide open. But we knew that before Huckabee made his announcement.
 
What we don’t know right now is who’s in the best position to capture a solid portion of the Republican base — the Southern states.
 
Mike Huckabee spoke to a large segment of that population; in addition to coming from the area, his folksy preaching style mesmerized many and connected with the Southern voter on multiple levels, not the least of which was a firm faith in God and an evangelical flair.
 
The only other Southern candidate in the race — Newt Gingrich from Georgia — lacks those key traits. Yes, it’s no secret Gingrich has been trying for years to restore the luster his very presence brought to the political realm. But this is one area where the former Speaker’s trysts rise up and haunt him.
 
Folks in the South have a real problem with that infidelity factor, and they don’t tend to dismiss hypocrisy so quickly.
 
Add to the calculus the fact that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is no longer in the race, and the Southern vote seems ripe for the picking if the right candidate comes along to appeal to their issues.
 
All the candidates know this. The real trick is deciding what secures the largest segments of that voting bloc. Is it an appeal to the basics of the Founding Fathers, which was rooted in the Protestant work ethic and other biblical teachings? How about a more direct appeal to touchstone issues such as abortion and gun control?
 
As pressing as topics such as high gas prices, runaway government spending and America’s questionable place in the world are, one would think these “old-school” political bones have outlived their appeal.
 
Yet it might serve a Mitt Romney well to retool some of his campaign speeches toward a spiritual message — something that, on the surface at least, harkens back to his own Mormon religion and the deep theological premises both Mormonism and other Protestant-based religions stand upon.
 
Look, it’s too early to gauge just what will sway a Southern voter, let alone if it will have broad appeal. The South today looks far different than even the early 2000s, when George W. Bush beat back an aggressive challenge from Sen. John McCain. Don’t believe me? Just look at how North Carolina and Virginia voted in the last presidential …
 
But chance favors the best prepared. And the road to the GOP nomination may once again run straight through the Bible Belt.