Sunday, December 9, 2007

Huckabee who?



For those who haven't heard much of Mike Huckabee the surging leader in Iowa, South Carolina and National polls, Electoral-vote.com has penned this interesting synopsis:

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is surging in Iowa. Mason-Dixon released a poll today putting Huckabee on top by 12%. A poll from Princeton Survey Research conducted Dec. 5-6 has him at 39%, with Mitt Romney second at 17%, Fred Thompson at 10%, and the rest in single digits, with Rudy Giuliani barely edging out Ron Paul for fourth place. An ARG poll taken a week earlier has Huckabee at 27% and Romney at 28%. A Des Moines Register poll taken a day before the ARG poll has Huckabee leading Romney 29% to 24%. While the numbers are debatable, there is little doubt that Huckabee has caught fire in Iowa. What's going on?

It has been known all year that Republicans are extremely unhappy with their field of candidates. Seen from the point of view of a southern white evangelical, each of the main GOP candidates is deeply flawed. Giuliani is a thrice-married, pro-abortion, pro-gay-rights, anti-gun, lapsed Catholic New York liberal. Romney is a flip-flopping Mormon with good hair and no core beliefs. Thompson isn't sure why he is in the race exactly, since he doesn't seem to have much real interest in running for President, let along being President. McCain is a solid conservative who doesn't hate immigrants as much as Tom Tancredo and who authored the much-hated McCain-Feingold bill, which puts ever-so-modest spending limits on campaigns. The rest of the field are not taken seriously.

Until recently, Huckabee was in the latter group, but finally, the Base has noticed that he is actually in step with them. He is an ordained Baptist minister and deeply religious. He can claim to love Jesus without it sounding ridiculous (can you imagine Giuliani saying this) and has a long record of opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Finally, they have found their boy.

At least in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Huckabee is regarded as a strange hillbilly who lived in a trailer as governor (because the governor's mansion was being refurbished). In a Washington Post poll ending Dec. 3, Romney leads with 37% and Huckabee comes in fourth at 9%. Other polls in New Hampshire should roughly the same thing. The difference has everything to do with the electorate. While Iowa is technically outside the Bible Belt, Iowa Republicans tend to be demographically, religiously, and ideologically pretty much the same as their southern cousins. Abortion and gay rights are high on the agenda. New Hampshire Republicans are a crusty bunch of libertarians and care much more about taxes and balancing the budget than the social issues. Besides, Romney was a neighbor when he was governor of Massachusetts and governed as a centrist. Coming up with a health-care plan gets him admiration in New Hampshire but not in Iowa.

Thus the $64 question is what happens if Huckabee wins Iowa (Jan. 3) and Romney wins New Hampshire (Jan. 8), both seen as increasingly likely events? The next primary is Michigan (Jan. 15), which Romney might win if for no other reason that his father was once a popular governor of the state. Next come Nevada and South Carolina (both Jan. 19). Romney is ahead in Nevada (which has a sizeable Mormon population) but Huckabee is surging in South Carolina as well. Recent Rasmussen and Insider Advantage polls concluded Dec. 4 give Huckabee a lead of 6-7% there. Finally, we come to Florida, with its renegade primary (opposed by both parties) on Jan. 29. It is conceivable, no likely, that Giuliani will not have finished higher than third in any caucus of primary for a month and the news will be Huckabee-Romney 24/7 for a month. Giuliani is way, way, ahead in Florida (after all, the state is overrun with elderly former New Yorkers), but after weeks of headlines saying "Is Giuliani Dead?" winning this one will be tough. Then a week later, all the big states vote. Huckabee isn't even on the radar in places like New York and California. Conclusion: it is really up in the air. Any pundit who tells you what is going to happen has been smoking something and inhaling it.

A lot of people know almost nothing about Huckabee except that he is a former governor of Arkansas and a Baptist minister. Well, there is a lot more and much of it will be coming out shortly. Here is a brief rundown. Huckabee wasn't actually elected governor initially. When Bill Clinton became President in 1992, the then Lt. Gov., Jim Tucker, ascended to the governor's mansion and a special election was held to fill the Lt. governor's job. Huckabee ran and narrowly won. When Tucker resigned due to a mounting corruption scandal, Huckabee became governor in 1996 (in the middle of his Senate run, which he abandoned).

Huckabee used to be fat. As in grossly clinically obese. So fat that he could barely walk up the steps to his office as governor (there is no elevator) and was scared to death some reporter would corner him exhausted at the top of the steps. Then he got a diagnosis of diabetes and told he would live maybe 10 more years. This scared the daylights out of him. He lost 110 pounds and wrote a book entitled "Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork" and became a health freak. He even challenged Iowa's governor, Tom Vilsack (D), to a marthon and beat Vilsack by 50 minutes. As governor, not surprisingly, he paid a lot of attention to the state's health care system and got generally good marks for his work.

His record on taxes was mixed. He lowered some and raised some. Many tax-cutting Republicans don't trust him on this issue.

When the mud begins to fly, you will see the name Wayne DuMond a lot. He's Huckabee's Willie Horton, but worse. As you may remember, when Gov. Mike Dukakis of Massachusetts was running for President in 1988, the Republicans ran ads against him featuring scary photos of an African-American convicted murderer named Willie Horton, who was given a weekend furlough on a furlough program that Dukakis did not initiate but did support. While on furlough he committed armed robbery and raped a woman. Dukakis knew nothing about Horton until the ads started, but they contributed to his "weak on crime" image and ultimately to his defeat.

Huckabee has a Willie Horton problem in spades. In 1984, a 35-year-old white man named Wayne DuMond was convicted of raping a 17-year-old cousin of then-governor Bill Clinton. DuMond was later castrated, although whether this act was forceable or self-inflicted in hope for mercy is controversial. As governor, Mike Huckabee actively lobbied the parole board to release DuMond, which it did. DuMond then murdered a Missouri woman. Needless to say, this story is going to be all over the place if the Huckabee surge continues. Most likely, it will be brought up not by the Democrats, but by Huckabee's Republican opponents, many of whom think of him as a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

Finally, Huckabee's stand on immigration is going to hurt him with the Tancredo crowd when it becomes better known. As governor, he supported state-sponsored prenatal care for pregnant illegal immigrants and also supported the right of illegal immigrants to apply for state college scholarships if they graduated from an Arkansas high school. If you don't like Eliot Spitzer's idea of allowing illegal immigrants to apply for drivers licenses, you probably won't like Mike Huckabee's idea of allowing them to apply for state scholarships.

With his stand on taxes, crime, and illegal immigrants, Huckabee provides a target-rich environment for his opponents to toss mud his way when the going gets rough. Stay tuned.