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."