Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, leading in every national poll of Republican presidential candidates, ventured down to Spartanburg, S.C., last weekend and got whipped -- by a former governor from a place called Hope.
Giuliani was one of six presidential candidates who spoke to the Spartanburg County Republican Party Convention. The others were former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Chicago businessman John Cox and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.
Each was asked to address five topics: the war on terror, illegal immigration, taxes, trade and the "sanctity of life and the traditional marriage amendment." Afterward, delegates gave each candidate a score of up to five points for how well they addressed each area. Huckabee garnered 3,522 points, beating the second-place Giuliani by 361.
The same day at the Greenville County, S.C., Republican convention, Huckabee placed second behind Romney (132 to 111) in a traditional straw poll of 421 delegates. Giuliani won a mere 35 votes.
These straw polls not only exposed Giuliani's relative weakness in one of the nation's most Republican states, they also demonstrated the potential appeal of Huckabee, a Baptist minister and unapologetic pro-life and pro-marriage conservative, who in two gubernatorial victories proved he could win crossover voters in a key swing state.
The Arkansas state legislature and congressional delegation are dominated by Democrats, but the state has picked the presidential winner nine times in row.
Can a Republican like Giuliani, who favors same-sex unions, tax-funded abortion and, until recently at least, partial-birth abortion, hold states like Arkansas in the Republican column? At the end of an American Spectator Newsmaker Breakfast on Monday, I put the question directly to Huckabee. He gave a direct answer.
Me: "Do you think Rudy Giuliani could appeal to Democrats in Arkansas?"
Huckabee: "No. You can't go to Arkansas and be for things like partial-birth abortion, tax-funded abortion, gun-control and same-sex civil unions or marriages and carry that state."
Me: "Would Rudy expand the base of the Republican Party in the Midwest, do you think?"
Huckabee: "No, I don't think so."
Me: "What would the nomination of Rudy Giuliani say about the future of the Republican Party in your view?"
Huckabee: "You know, I respect Rudy a lot for his skills as a mayor. He obviously turned New York around. I don't want to do anything that would disparage where his skills are. But I am not sure I can answer your question. That may be one for the political analysts more than me."
Me: "Well, put it this way: Let's say you're a conscientious Christian conservative --"
Me: "You believe that abortion takes the life of an innocent child --"
Huckabee: "Which I do."
Me: "And you believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman --"
Huckabee: "I do."
Me: "And that the state should not legally recognize alternative unions --"
Huckabee: "I do not favor alternative unions."
Me: "And there is a third-party candidate who is pro-life and pro-marriage running against a Republican like Rudy Giuliani. Which candidate should a good Christian conservative vote for?"
Huckabee: "If Christians don't vote conscience and conviction, and they only vote parties -- if they are purely partisan -- then they really disenfranchise themselves from the very basis upon which they said they were involved in politics. They become just another Republican special-interest group. They are no longer a part of a principled minority, or, as it were, a majority or constituency."
Another reporter: "In that situation, how would you vote, governor?"
Huckabee: "I'll be very clear: I am Christian first; I am a Republican second. And so, my convictions are what led me to the Republican Party. And I am not saying that I would never vote for a person who is different from me, because obviously I have to vote for a lot of people who are different than me and have different views. But my value system is the one thing I have to hold on to. A hundred years from now, which party is in power is not going to make a whole lot of difference, but whether I was true to my moral compass means everything."
Me: "Well, governor, it sounds to me like what you just said is that if you have a Rudy Giuliani running as the Republican and there is a third-party candidate who is pro-family and pro-marriage, that the conscientious Christian conservative ought to vote for the pro-life, pro-marriage candidate over Rudy Giuliani?"
Huckabee: "Well, I've got a better idea, Terry. What they ought to do is nominate me, and then we don't have that challenge."
Huckabee: "So, let me not answer the hypothetical 'what if,' because I don't think we're going there. I really don't."
Republicans who want their party to remain the political vehicle of choice for conscientious pro-life, pro-marriage conservatives better hope this man from Arkansas is right about where the GOP is going.