The WashPo’s Fix says that Mike Huckabee is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Republic party. Why?
* In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll Huckabee led the field of potential 2012 Republican primary voters — ahead of people like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
* Huckabee defeated Romney, who is widely seen as the 2012 Republican frontrunner, in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and came within a whisker — actually 14,743 votes — of beating John McCain in the 2008 South Carolina primary.
* Huckabee has been as active as any potential 2012 candidate so far in 2009, doing four events for Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia as well as an event for Bob Vander Plaats, who is running for governor in Iowa in 2010, and a handful of other conservative candidates and causes.
* Huckabee has kept his profile among conservatives nationally high with his weekly show on Fox News Channel and his radio program.
“Huck PAC is off to another great year,” said Sarah Huckabee, the governor’s daughter and the executive director of his leadership political action committee. “We have continued to build on our strengths as a grassroots organization and through that built a team of more than 5,000 volunteers with representatives in all 50 states.”
I do regret not foreseeing how many people would be fooled into thinking that Gov. Huckabee was a true social conservative just because he had a southern accent and talked about God a lot. (Not to mention Jesus and Lucifer, in some amazing theology he later claimed was ignorance.)
Nevertheless, The Fix tries to determine if we are missing the HUckabee boat once again. For the YES camp:
First, Huckabee does have a devoted core group of supporters built during the 2008 campaign who will almost certainly stick with him should he run again in 2012. And, those followers tend to be white evangelical Protestants (he held a 21-point lead over Romney among that group in the Post poll), the group who comprise much of the Republican party’s base and have a heavy hand in picking the nominee.
Huckabee has cared for and fed that base since the election — primarily through his television and radio shows. Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams compared Huckabee’s media presence to the radio addresses delivered by Ronald Reagan during the 1970s.
“The impact of those commentaries seemed to escape notice by the media of that era and perhaps we’re witnessing the same thing happening now with Huckabee,” said Wadhams. “He will have been on the air for more than two years when we enter 2011 so its hard for me to see how he could not be a serious candidate in 2012.”
Second, Huckabee’s 2008 run left good feelings among rank and file Republicans — including those who didn’t vote for him. The most obvious comparison is former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) who surprised Democrats by his strong showing in the 2004 primaries, wound up as the vice presidential nominee, and eventually ran for president a second time. Huckabee is both well known and well liked by most Republicans — an advantage not to be underestimated.
And for the NO camp:
Huckabee’s rise during the 2008 primaries was fueled in large part by the fact that the so-called major candidates — Romney, McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) — all ignored him, believing that voters would not be wooed by a bass playing pastor.
No candidate will make that mistake with Huckabee again. If he does decide to run, he can expect a far more aggressive effort against him by several of his rivals who will be interested in co-opting his support among social conservatives.
While Huckabee enjoyed the status as the lone true social conservative in the race — with the exception of Thompson who got in late and exited early — in 2008, he will likely be fighting with Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the social conservative mantle in 2012.
There is also little evidence that Huckabee has solved the major hole in his candidacy in 2008: a highly professionalized organization and fundraising operation
Huckabee’s rise in 2008 was remarkable for any number of reasons but one of the largest was the fact that he had a fraction of the staff that other candidates carried and raised nowhere near the cash of his main rivals. As a result, there was little long-term planning to capitalize on his Iowa victory and he ultimately ran out of cash to run serious campaigns in later primary states.
Volunteers, which Huckabee has in abundance, can help to a point. But, ultimately, any national campaign needs people who have been in the scrum before and know how to put together the pieces of a campaign.
Of course, I disagree that Huckabee was the only “true social conservative” in the race last time. But either way, let’s take Gov. Huckabee more seriously, and not underestimate either his desire for the Presidency or his willingness to do almost anything to get there.