After his second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll, Mike Huckabee emerged as the mainstream media's favorite conservative. "For a Joke-Telling Candidate, a Second-Place Finish" purred a big New York Times profile, complete with photos of Mike playing the guitar with his band Capitol Offense. The Washington Post's photo captured Huckabee jamming with an Elvis impersonator. "Hardball" host Chris Matthews introduced him as "Cinderella man." "What's it like to come in second to a guy that spent $2 million and apparently was hiring volunteers at a thousand bucks a pop?" Matthews asked.
Given the latest CBS News poll shows exactly 1 percent of GOP primary voters currently prefer someone other than Rudy (38 percent), Thompson (18 percent), Romney (13 percent) and McCain (12 percent), one can be forgiven for wondering what the heck all the Huckabee fuss is about.
Well, truth is, Huckabee is easy to like. What is it with Arkansas? How can one small town called Hope produce in quick succession two of the most affable retail politicians in recent American history?
Of all the gazillion presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee is the only one out on the campaign trail who seems to be having a good time. "I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anyone about it," is one of his signature lines.
Some others of recent vintage:
"I was the first governor in America to have a concealed handgun permit -- so don't mess with me!" Huckabee told a Washington, D.C., convention.
In West Des Moines, Huckabee invited Republicans to join him for a Q-and-A. "What it really stands for is 'questions and avoidance,'" he quipped. "I do my best not to say anything that would end my political career."
As a cell phone interrupted his talk: "If that's Dick Cheney wanting me to go on a duck hunt, tell him I'm not doing it," he said.
On corruption in Arkansas politics: "It got to be where the five most feared words for an Arkansas politician were: 'Will the defendant please rise.'"
How funny is Huckabee? So funny that when he goes on "The Colbert Report" he has Colbert in stitches. It's not easy to out-do the host on that show.
Huckabee is also a former governor with at least as solid a record of accomplishment as the last band-playing former Arkansas governor to run for president.
Why isn't a fabulous campaigner like Huckabee in the first tier of candidates?
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.