Huckabee's new self-help book feeds presidential speculation

After losing 110 pounds, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has reached his fighting weight, but he’s not saying whether he’s ready for a presidential bout.

“I’m not thinking about it as much as other people are,” he told The Hill after a Newsweek luncheon Monday on healthy living. “I’m thinking about being governor for a year and a half.”

patrick g. ryan
Gov. Mike Huckabee at a Newsweek luncheon promoting his book.


Huckabee has been spending increasing time in Washington — so much that he joked recently that he might need to get a D.C. residence. Just last week, he testified before committees in the House and Senate on Medicare.

Huckabee has turned himself into a national spokesman on healthcare issues, promoting “Healthy Arkansas,” his program to improve health and tackle the growing problem of obesity.

Huckabee speaks with personal authority on the subject. He radically altered his diet, exercise and lifestyle after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Now he is promoting his new book, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork.

The book offers Huckabee’s “Twelve-stop program” to break bad habits, and encouragers readers to “STOP whining,” and “STOP making excuses.” It also includes an account of President Bush introducing Huckabee at a Little Rock luncheon by calling him “skinny” and has cover blurbs of endorsement by Bill Clinton and Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Mitt Romney (R-Mass.).

Huckabee, vice chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA), plans to take his push for healthier living to a national level next month, when he succeeds Warner as chairman of the organization.

His increasing prominence has fueled speculation that Huckabee might be following the pathway cleared by Clinton, another Arkansas governor who used the NGA as a platform for a presidential campaign.

Plenty of politicians have penned political memoirs, but a self-help book is an untested vehicle for campaigning. Still, Huckabee casts his program in political terms. He says government actions are only part of the solution to a problem that requires individuals to change their lifestyles.

“We cannot spend our way out of this problem,” he said. His Healthy Arkansas initiative provides state employees with discounts on their health insurance if they participate in health studies. It grants time off for employees who stay healthy, rather than just for those who get sick, and even provides time off during the day for exercise as a way to provide parity with smokers who take breaks.

Huckabee was given another chance to get in the national spotlight when Clinton invited him to help head an American Heart Association initiative on childhood obesity. Huckabee said the two of them are able to demonstrate that the issue is nonpartisan. “We had two Southern-fried bubbas … who know all about overeating and exercising,” he said.

Huckabee hopes that his triumph over his lifelong weight problem will serve as an inspiration to others. He said losing the weight has made him a more effective politician.

“It’s helped me a lot,” he said, by increasing his discipline, focus, and energy. “I was getting my job done before,” he said. “I think I can do it with a lot more strength and confidence than before.”

Huckabee, who became governor in 1996, has demonstrated a common touch in other ways. When he renovated the Governor’s Mansion, he lived in a doublewide trailer.

He also has found some issues that might allow him to stand out in a field likely to include several social conservatives, including Sens. Bill Frist (Tenn.), Sam Brownback (Kans.) and George Allen (Va.). He pushed a bill through the state Legislature establishing marriage covenants, which are intended to be stronger than conventional marriages and to discourage divorce, and entered into one with his own wife.