The other Presidential hopeful from Arkansas

Posted: Nov 15, 2006 5:07 PM

Monday night, a Presidential hopeful from Arkansas dazzled a tough crowd of political insiders in New York City. No, not Hillary. Mike Huckabee. Yes, Mike Huckabee.

Addressing the Monday Meeting, the influential monthly gathering of Big Apple conservatives, Gov. Huckabee talked about his record leading Arkansas, as well as his own physical transformation. For those who don’t know about it, well, you’ll soon find out—at least if Huckabee and his growing legion of fans have their way. The outgoing governor lost 100 pounds while in office, making him a most unlikely fitness guru.

Huckabee has run four marathons in the past year and a half, and now he hopes to run all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

If his performance Monday night is any indication, he’s got a legitimate shot.

He lacks the celebrity of a John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, or even Mitt Romney for that matter. But Huckabee is effortlessly charismatic, and he delivers with aplomb lines that ought to sound corny, but don’t. And he’s got an incredibly appealing personal story, one that even livid liberals can't take away from him. What national press coverage he’s received to date has been not just positive, but in some cases downright fawning. Losing 100 pounds and running marathons are unassailably impressive—and decidedly apolitical. Obviously this will change once the campaign heats up and reporters write about things other than his weight loss, but initial impressions are just as important in politics as in everyday life.

What’s interesting is the degree to which Huckabee focused on health. Not health care, mind you, but health. Huckabee believes we’ve grown fat—literally. He reminded folks the strain this has put not just on the health care system, but also on our economy. Somehow he did this without being preachy. He actually made the audience laugh. His best line: “America’s a lot like an NFL football game: 22 people on the field who desperately need rest, and 70,000 in the stands who desperately need exercise.”

Huckabee did not argue for government spending to achieve his goals, but rather he seemed to advocate political leaders becoming cheerleaders for a healthier America. Unexplained is exactly how he envisions this being executed, but at least he gets points for novelty.

With the implosion of George Allen, the darling of many conservatives, there’s a huge chunk of folks in the grassroots seeking a new horse. Rudy’s positions on guns and abortion are better-suited to New York City than conservatives in the South. Romney is a Mormon, and it’s up in the air whether evangelical Christians will consider that important or not. As for McCain, he’ll have trouble winning over conservatives of any stripe—though that’s not to say he won’t be able to.

Hackabee certainly has his own albatross: he raised taxes, albeit only after cutting them by a bigger amount. Most of the time, that would be a deal-breaker for conservatives. It might be this once again this cycle, but maybe not. If anyone can overcome that liability, Huckabee certainly seems capable. He would need to have an agenda once he’s past introducing himself to the rest of the nation, but whatever it is, there’s no doubt he’ll be able to communicate it effectively.

Rudy, McCain, and Romney might not be alone in the top tier for long.