Political Strategy: Keep An Eye On Mike Huckabee genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Mike Huckabee

The Republican Party remains unconvinced by their front running presidential candidates. This weekend religious conservatives are holding a Values Voter Summit in Washington DC...hoping to identify a candidate they can support. Despite the many pundits who believe Rudy Giuliani is headed towards the Republican Party's nomination, I have my suspicions that we will see Mike Huckabee emerge as a viable alternative. Here's the basis of my speculation.

1. Giuliani will not be able to undo the damage done to his prospects by the strident opposition of evangelical leaders like James Dobson. While polling indicates he has support from Christian conservatives, the same polling suggests that support is soft and therefore vulnerable.

2. Romney may be willing to say whatever evangelicals want to hear but when its all said and done, he remains a Mormon and that's a hurdle far too many evangelicals will not be able to overcome.

3. Thompson created high expectations by delaying his announcement to run and his performance since entering the race has been disappointing. His opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage put an exclamation mark on the disappointment.

4. McCain may have the best track record on social issues but his history with evangelicals has been confrontational and I suspect many GOP voters simply don't think he can win the general election. The fact that he supported the President on immigration and is so closely aligned with the President on the war in Iraq doesn't help his cause with independent voters.

5. The anticipated withdrawal of Sam Brownback eliminates one of Huckabee's primary rivals for the evangelical vote...as well as the votes of conservative Catholics. The fact that Brownback believes the GOP nominee must be "a pro-life candidate" suggests the Kansas Senator will not support Giuliani.

So how does Huckabee enter the top tier and become a legitimate contender? Partly by who he is...inclusive of his Christian credentials...and partly be default especially if he can succeed in becoming the protest candidate in the Iowa primary. The challenge Huckabee faces is formidable. He has his detractors amongst traditional conservatives and they include the influential Richard Viguerie. My own belief is that Viguerie favors establishing a third party nominee and is therefore doing his best to disqualify the existing GOP candidates.

Notwithstanding the opposition Huckabee faces from the evangelical elite, his down home approach appeals to the average church goer in the GOP...individuals who will ultimately decide the winner of the Iowa primary. Huckabee may also be the best speaker in the field and his conciliatory tone plays well with those evangelicals who fear another abrasive candidate like George Bush may turn off moderate conservatives and independents who have grown weary of the unyielding gridlock. The fact that Huckabee holds true to the GOP social agenda but seeks to enact it with civility and a seemingly sincere style is also appealing.

If one looks at the criticisms of Huckabee from the likes of Viguerie; they may represent differences on issues that will play well with middle class Republicans...voters who many believe have supported the GOP even though doing so may have not been in their own best interest. The fact that the GOP has had success in painting prior Democratic candidates as elitists may have actually opened the eyes of these mainstream Republicans who now feel they may have been used by their own GOP elite.

What evangelicals are beginning to realize is that elitism exists throughout the political system and the promises they received from the GOP on social issues may have been nothing more than the means to guarantee their votes. Viguerie's criticisms of Huckabee may actually represent the other concerns that impact values voters...interests which are beginning to resonate and may influence their future votes...votes that may be cast for men like Mike Huckabee who support their values but do more than provide lip service. A few of Viguerie's objections to Huckabee follow.

Not only did he increase Arkansas's minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.25 per hour, but he even encouraged the U.S. Congress to do the same thing nationally.

He supported President George W. Bush's 2003 massive expansion of Medicare by adding a prescription-drug benefit.

He called the No Child Left Behind Act, which increased federal education spending by 48 percent and expanded big-government control of local schools, "the greatest education reform effort of the federal government in my lifetime."

The GOP elite seems to believe they can take values voters for granted with little more than stating the right things with regards to social issues. However, these voters may be ready to embrace a candidate who not only shares their religious values but will support programs that provide them with other important economic considerations. Truth be told, many values voters who have repeatedly supported the GOP received little benefit from the Bush administration's policies (think tax cuts). A candidate like Mike Huckabee may offer a much more palatable formula.

A number of stars have to align for Huckabee to emerge as a viable contender...but he can look to the path taken to the presidency by another former Arkansas Governor. The fact that Bill Clinton, frequently regarded as one of the best political minds in recent history, cites Huckabee as the second tier GOP candidate to watch suggests that those stars may be more malleable than we may realize.

Comments

1 On October 25, 2007 at 10:18 AM, A. wrote —

I agree 100% that Huckabee could be a serious contender, but he has done a lousy job of laying out a compelling agenda on important issues like Iraq, health care, or immigration. He takes clear stands and speaks eloquently to conservative voters, but he has yet to distinguish himself in the field. Regardless, considering his fund raising woes, he has done remarkably well.

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