Huckabee, is He Running in 2008 or 2012?

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sat, 02/23/2008 - 3:31pm.

Mike Huckabee is technically still running for president, but increasingly his bid is aimed at strengthening his public profile for the next stage in his career.



Within the campaign, there's a degree of optimism about his chances of preventing John McCain from garnering the 1,191 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination. But Huckabee's supporters are also now embracing what they see as his enhanced future prospects.

As they see it, the relative success of his longshot bid — as well as his finish as the unquestioned second-to-last man standing — will grant the former Arkansas governor a visible platform and put him at the top of the candidate list should he choose to run again in 2012 or 2016.

"At end of day, we'll do whatever we can to help John McCain in the fall," said Huckabee strategist Ed Rollins. "If he wins, great. If not, the game starts all over again."

And even if McCain does win in November, Rollins noted that the Arizonan will already be 72 years old.

"It may be open again in four years. And Mike is 51. He's got a long way to go before his political career is over."

Former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), a top Huckabee ally and frequent surrogate, is not giving up hope on this year. But he also suggested that surviving well into the primary season would make this cycle's darkhorse a front-runner for the next time around the track.

"The Republican Party has been kind to second-place finishes in the past," Hutchinson said. "He's a young man. And he's run the kind of race that has not burned bridges or torn apart the party."

As McCain's success has underscored, the GOP has its own tradition of political primogeniture: rewarding he who is next in line for the party's nomination. Dating back to Ronald Reagan's 1976 challenge of Gerald Ford — a race that Huckabee now frequently cites — that candidate has typically been somebody who has run and fallen short in the past.

"Huckabee is playing for second," said Republican strategist Craig Shirley, a McCain backer and author of a book on the 1976 presidential race. "He wants the story written that he came in second to McCain and not Mitt Romney. That way he will have what he believes is the more legitimate claim to be the heir apparent for the GOP nomination, and not Romney, in 2012 or 2016."

In effect, Huckabee's continued campaign is as much about early jockeying for the next GOP contest as it is a last-ditch effort at this one.

"In the long term, staying in will help him more than it will hurt him," argued Joe Carter, an aide at the Family Research Council who briefly worked for Huckabee last year.

To the casual voter in states that are just now holding contests, the former governor and Baptist preacher is just now making his public debut and, in a two-man race, garnering the sort of valuable exposure that he wouldn't receive had he dropped out.

Carter, a native Texan, noted that he had friends from back home who were just now tuning into the state's March 4 primary and asking him how to get a yard sign. "You don't want to discourage that and say it's too late," he said.

Still, Carter acknowledged that Huckabee has to be mindful about the point at which he wears out his welcome with the party rank-and-file by remaining in a race he can't win.

"It's a balancing act," Carter said, predicting that Huckabee will take his cue from the results in Texas.

Rollins acknowledged that the Lone Star State, where Huckabee once lived and where he's spent considerable time raising cash and preaching in friendly churches, could be determinative. "If he doesn't do well there, it's kind of a long march," Rollins said. "Texas is really where we're going to focus on."

Even if Huckabee picks up delegates in Texas, however, his support will likely come from the same demographic where he's found success before — thus reinforcing perceptions about his inherent weakness for future races.

Because for all the buzz he's created since his triumph in Iowa, Huckabee's success has largely been confined to just a slice of the GOP electorate — Christian conservatives. Beyond the Hawkeye state, he's only run well in the South. And in that region, his strength has been limited to rural areas where there tend to be more evangelicals. In the more cosmopolitan urban or suburban areas of most every state, inside and outside the South, he's gotten thrashed.

"Here was a guy that had tremendous success in defying the stereotype as a preacher-politician," noted Max Brantley, editor of the Arkansas Times and a longtime Huckabee critic. "He was viewed as something of a moderate and had some crossover appeal. Now he's ending his campaign by driving himself into the corner that he avoided as governor, casting himself as a one-dimensional, religious-right figure. He's decided to define himself as somebody who doesn't have as broad an appeal."

Huckabee backers, however, suggest that his appeal to Christian conservatives could also position him well should he want to pursue a leadership role in that community.

"He's certainly going to be the main spokesman for values voters in the Republican coalition," said Hutchinson.

In conversations they've had, Hutchinson said Huckabee hasn't made clear what he wants to do next. But Huckabee indicated what he doesn't want to do: take either a Cabinet post or run for office in Arkansas.

The alternative, then, could be to pursue a hybrid path between those pursued by Reagan and by conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

Just as Reagan did after his '76 run, Huckabee could step up his presence on the rubber chicken circuit and burnish his policy credentials by writing and offering commentary on the side in advance of another run. Given his near-constant cable news presence, Huckabee also could formalize a more-permanent role on TV — like Buchanan did in between his 1988 and 1992 runs. Should he want to run again, he'd have a nice platform from which to get his message out. But should he decide to capitalize on his affable persona and embrace punditry, he could just stick on the tube. (Or, as Buchanan has proved, he could do both.)

Another option would be to create his own political entity, from which he could draw a paycheck (an important factor for a politician who never made much money) and use it to make permanent his presence on the public landscape.

"He needs something like an Empower America," said Carter, citing the think tank created by Jack Kemp. "He needs to come here and make some friends. That hurt him this time — nobody in D.C. really knew him."

Huckabee, by all accounts, doesn't really know what's next. "I have nothing else to do," he joked to reporters at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

One longtime Huckabee watcher thinks that there is some truth to that.

"I think he's looking for a high profile and a job," said John Brummett, columnist for the Arkansas News and a veteran of the Little Rock press corps. "He's always needed work."

"And I think he thought he could be a bigger deal if he stayed in it for a while."

 

by Jonathan Martin - February 23, 2008 - posted at www.politico.com

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sat, 02/23/2008 - 3:31pm.