December 12, 2007


The Huckabee Factor (ZEV CHAFETS, 12/12/07, NY Times Magazine)

The governor was especially happy that morning about an impending endorsement he expected (and received the following day) from Tim LaHaye, the author of the apocalyptic ‘‘Left Behind’’ series of novels. ‘‘Left Behind’’ is wildly popular among evangelicals, who have bought more than 65 million copies, making LaHaye a very rich man and one of the few writers who is also a major philanthropist. Recently he donated a hockey rink to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, although some members of the faculty there deride ‘‘Left Behind’’ as science fiction. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has no such reservations. He considers the ‘‘Left Behind’’ books, in which the world comes to a violent end as Jesus triumphs over Satan, a ‘‘compelling story written for nontheologians.’’

Huckabee’s affability and populist economic and social views have sometimes been misinterpreted as a moderate brand of evangelical Christianity. In fact, as he wrote in his book ‘‘Character Makes a Difference,’’ he considers liberalism to be a cancer on Christianity. Huckabee is an admirer of the late Jerry Falwell (whose son, Jerry Jr., recently endorsed his candidacy) and subscribes wholeheartedly to the principles of the Moral Majority. He also affirms the Baptist Faith and Message statement: ‘‘The Holy Bible . . . has truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.’’ [...]

In this unpredictable primary season, Mike Huckabee’s surge in Iowa — and beyond — is perhaps the greatest surprise. Iowa was supposed to be a pushover for Mitt Romney. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, began working the state more than a year ago. He commands an army of trained professionals and a vast ad budget. Mitt Romney’s message flows like Muzak out of every radio and TV in the state. All this effort has reportedly cost Romney more than $7 million. Huckabee, by contrast, has spent less than $400,000 in Iowa. His paid staff in the state is not much bigger than a softball team. Televised Huckabee ads have been harder to catch than ‘‘I Love Lucy’’ reruns.

Even more amazing, when the Register poll came out Dec. 2, Huckabee hadn’t been in the state for three weeks. In campaign time, that’s approximately three centuries. But absence made hearts grow only fonder. Not only was Huckabee leading in Iowa, he was also five points ahead of Romney, 29 percent to 24 percent, and double digits away from the rest of the field.

The movement was catching hold beyond Iowa too. On Dec. 5, a Rasmussen daily tracking poll showed Huckabee leading the Republican field nationally, ahead of Giuliani by three points, 20 percent to 17 percent. This represented an eight-point jump for Huckabee in only a week. Other polls still had Giuliani in the lead, but the Real Clear Politics Web site, which averages national surveys, showed Huckabee in a virtual tie for second.

Still, in spite of this surge in popularity, Huckabee has almost no money or organization. He has no national finance chairman, no speechwriters and a policy staff of three. His ‘‘national field director’’ is his 25-year-old daughter, Sarah. Huckabee does have a pollster, Dick Dresner, but so far there hasn’t been enough cash to take any polls. ‘‘I think we can go until the beginning of the year,’’ Dresner told me. ‘‘If we start by then to raise some money, we can begin to acquire the trappings of a campaign. Which, at the moment, we don’t really have.’’

Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, doubts that Huckabee will come up with the money. ‘‘He spends more time in cable TV studios than he does meeting with his finance committee,’’ he says. ‘‘A big win in Iowa will get him enough to go on for a couple weeks. Then, if he comes in second or third in New Hampshire, he’s in the race. Short of that, he’s a one-night stand.’’

Many Republican strategists remain dubious about Huckabee’s chances. ‘‘He’ll get hammered in New Hampshire,’’ the Republican consultant Mike Murphy told me. ‘‘A primary campaign is like a book. Iowa is just the first chapter. After that come more chapters. Opponents will hit Huckabee for being soft on immigration, Arkansas allegations, that kind of thing. And at some point, Republican elites will begin to ask, Is what we need a smallstate governor who doesn’t believe in Darwin?’’

Who was the last creationist governor to lose a presidential race, Alf Landon?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 12, 2007 9:48 AM

George Wallace?

Posted by: Brandon at December 12, 2007 12:28 PM

Yes, but he caused Humphrey to lose.

I get a kick out of all the 2 party heads who say 3rd parties don't matter.

I you look at Perot, Wallace, and even Nader costing Gore Florida (incontrovertable, btw) it becomes somewhat clearer.

3rd parties (when existing in "competitive" elections) are the only thing that "matters."

Make the pie higher.

BTW, OJ is spot on re: the issue at hand.

Posted by: Bruno at December 12, 2007 1:37 PM

Wallace would have won if he ran as a Republican.

Posted by: oj at December 12, 2007 4:12 PM

Maybe in the New Hampshire of 1968 he'd of won, OJ, but not here in Michigan. No, HHH would have defeated Wallace, here, in the national popular vote and in the electoral college.

Posted by: Dave W at December 12, 2007 10:22 PM

Nixon lost MI. Wallace might well not have given the racial tensions.

Posted by: oj at December 12, 2007 11:08 PM