Huckabee’s Hope

Ken Blackwell
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Posted: Aug 09, 2007 12:00 AM
Huckabee’s Hope

There’s another governor from Hope, Ark., seeking to become the president of America. He’s Mike Huckabee. And while many would think that his hometown is the only thing Mr. Huckabee has in common with President Clinton, they share one other thing as well: Mr. Huckabee knows how to appeal to both the party base and middle America at the same time.

Just as New Hampshire made Bill Clinton the comeback kid in 1992, this weekend’s Iowa straw poll could do the same for the charismatic, but underfunded Mr. Huckabee, especially since Messrs. Giuliani and McCain have backed out of it and Mr. Thompson isn’t even in it.

At first glance, Governor Huckabee seems to be a ready-made ideal candidate for social conservatives. He’s an ordained Baptist pastor, with a seminary degree, lifelong conservative views on religion, abortion, same-sex marriage, and the Second Amendment.

Yet at the same time, Mr. Huckabee has the ability to explain his views on divisive issues in a way that doesn’t alienate those who differ with his policy stances.

However, Mr. Huckabee’s full range of issues includes stances on education, health care, and social services that manage to win widespread support among moderate voters. Mr. Huckabee, who lost over 100 pounds in the past five years, speaks energetically about refocusing American health care efforts on prevention such as healthy eating, regular exercise, and early detection of illness.

While his record on economic issues is not touted as a conservative triumph, there were circumstances such as mandates from the Supreme Court of Arkansas that leave open the question of exactly how much choice the governor had on some of those spending items.

But the questions GOP voters have about the frontrunners’ conservatism revolve around the social issues, and on those Mr. Huckabee is as consistent as it gets.

In many election cycles, a person with more than 10 years as governor of a swing state, with a compelling personal story, and the ability to communicate normally would be a top tier candidate. But we’re in an election cycle like no other.

It’s a real challenge in this stunningly front-loaded cycle for Mr. Huckabee to get the funds or necessary attention to take the nomination. He gives great stump speeches, is a fantastic campaigner and debater, truly connects with people, and knows how to take charge of a room.

And even with an unprecedented primary schedule that could have both party nominees in less than four weeks, he’s managed to slowly climb in the polls through his relentless campaigning and debate performances. Pollsters and pundits have lauded him as one of the best, if not the best, candidate in the televised debates thus far.

It’s an open question as to whether such progress will do the trick for Mr. Huckabee — it’s a long shot for anyone without a national reputation to win in this environment.

But there are two spots on the national ticket that must be filled.

Mr. Huckabee’s distinctive appeal should put him on the short list for vice president, regardless of which Republican candidate gets the nomination.

And of all the Republicans, no potential nominee would benefit more from having Mr. Huckabee as a running mate than Rudy Giuliani.

Messrs. Rudy and Huckabee would compliment each other as a national team. The most significant weaknesses Mr. Giuliani faces are Mr. Huckabee’s greatest strengths. Mr. Giuliani has the national security and federal experience that Mr. Huckabee lacks, and Mr. Huckabee’s work on issues like education and health care would be assets in the general election.

The former mayor of New York City is rock-solid on protecting America, as well as the conservative economic issues of cutting taxes, reducing government spending, and balancing the budget. His personal past and social positions have been the only problems he’s had with the Republican base, and no candidate running is stronger on precisely those issues than Mr. Huckabee.

Although Mr. Giuliani is from the Northeast while Mr. Huckabee is from the South, both men have one major accomplishment in common: They know how to win elections on Democratic turf.

Of course, similar comparisons could be made pairing Mr. Huckabee with Messrs. Thompson, Romney, or McCain. He would be a great running mate for any of them, for many of the same reasons. Each of the top tier contenders has distinctive strengths, and Mr. Huckabee would be a good balance for any of those men.

This is not to say that Mike Huckabee inevitably will be the vice presidential nominee. After all, he’s running for president, not vice president. He’s trying to be the leader, not the number two.

And of course there are other Republicans who could be vice president. Mr. Huckabee is not the only choice.

But if Mr. Huckabee does not take the early primaries, then the eventual victor should give serious consideration to putting another man from Hope, Ark., on the national ticket. It might be one of the smartest things the GOP nominee could do.