Hope for Huckabee

Oh sure, I could have written about the record of the new Democratic majority this week, what has eluded them and why they are embarking on a public relations blitz to shore up their image with voters, but why do that when I can just join the chorus of media saps cheering on Mike Huckabee?

The former governor, who led Arkansas for a decade, lacks the glaring deficiencies, which are now a hallmark of the GOP field. Huckabee meets the test of every Republican coalition; charms and impresses; and unless the media has failed to unearth it, he has yet to offend a living soul.

Following the exit of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) from the race, and Huckabee's knockout performance at last week’s Values Voters Summit in Washington, people have jammed Huckabee’s phone lines and crashed his website, trying to send him money. Yet conservative Christian leaders have ignored Huckabee. When he asks for their help he is told to come back when he has a chance. When he tells them they are his chance, they don’t listen. At a recent press event in Washington, Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said, “While Gov. Huckabee is very good on all the social issues, he has not seemed to find solid footing on the issue of the threat internationally from radical Islam.” Since Perkins is already opposed to Giuliani’s candidacy, this must mean the footing of Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson on radical Islam is more solid in his view, since Sen. John McCain isn’t going to be their choice. And have these leaders concluded that national security is now a higher priority than their opposition to abortion and gay marriage?

When will the big wheels in the religious right, who agree with Huckabee on every issue but are holding meetings right now about the threat of Rudy Giuliani, put their money and their might where their principles are, and behind the guy with the best chance of stopping Hillary Clinton? It ain’t Rudy — it’s Huck.

Clearly Romney, who has the most to fear in a Huckabee breakthrough, must be aware that the slim possibility still exists for social conservatives to rally behind Huckabee and derail Romney’s chances for a fight against Giuliani. He may have written Huckabee off in August, when the red-state governor came in second in the Iowa straw poll, but Romney knows better now. He could hear it in the exuberant response to Huckabee’s speech at the Values summit last weekend, and in the minimal applause he himself received after beating Huckabee by a fraction of a point in the poll total but getting crushed by Huckabee among those voting onsite at the conference.

Next to Romney, Huckabee’s hair might not hold up, but his record on Republican issues certainly does. He is free of flip-flops or Road to Des Moines conversions, as Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) likes to call them, and possesses the rare combination of primary and general election appeal that could help the Republicans win both red and blue states by drawing ample moderates while exciting enough of the GOP base.

Huckabee’s populist rhetoric could attract the winning swing votes from Reagan Democrats to NASCAR Dads to those Soccer Moms uncomfortable with Hillary Clinton who liked Barack Obama. The son of a firefighter, Huckabee became the first member of his family to graduate high school, then worked two jobs to put himself through college. He reminds voters that he grew up finishing meals because he was taught to waste nothing, and that he understands what life is like for “people who have no trust fund, no safety net to fall back on.” He doesn’t mind pointing out that CEO salaries are 500 times higher than that of the average worker, or that the men on stage with him at the Republican debates are benefiting from the economy but many Americans are not. His greatest advantage is that he speaks more clearly and plainly about policy than any presidential candidate on either party.

The words most often used to describe Huckabee are “genuine,” and “real.” His line, “I'm a conservative, but I’m not angry about it,” couldn’t be delivered by anyone else and manages to come across as piercing and humble at the same time.

Lacking celebrity or wealthy friends, Huckabee is vastly outraised by the front-runners as well as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). But he has clearly won the Dark Horse primary. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich agree that no one else could possibly pull ahead and pull off a surprise win but Huckabee. I am betting Hillary Clinton does too, and she should dread the thought.

Just what would happen if Clinton, who has been isolated from the public for 15 years, actually had to face a Southern governor, a comedian and musician, a humble diabetic who lost 100 pounds, a Baptist minister who has counseled sinners and comforted the grieving? Huckabee may take positions far to the right of Clinton but she would have a hard time calling him an extremist, since his rhetoric neither preaches nor divides. How would she respond in a general election campaign to Huckabee’s lines like: “I have walked the aisles at Wal-Mart,” which would conjure up not only her distance but her history of negative associations as well?

Huckabee, unlike Clinton, doesn’t seem to calculate his responses or positions on anything. In fact, he was the only Republican candidate to admit that unlike President Bush he wouldn’t have vetoed the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program because it was politically inexplicable. He said he wouldn’t have “let it get to that,” but when pressed on the veto question he said no because “the political loss is going to be enormous.” Honesty like that went out of fashion long ago in presidential campaigns.

Polls show Huckabee is currently nipping at Romney’s loafers again in Iowa, and New Hampshire — home to Pat Buchanan upsets — is fertile ground for him to gain threatening momentum should he be able to pull it out in Iowa first. It will take some people opening their pockets, and it will take the conservative Christian coalition deciding just who best represents their values and their principles. But I disagree with Dan Bartlett, recently departed adviser to President Bush, who said you can’t reach the White House with a name like Huckabee. We could soon have another Comeback Kid from Hope, and Mike Huckabee could be our next president.