January 28, 2011


The Right's 2012 Vacancy: With Pence out, Huckabee wavering and Palin problematic, conservatives are looking for a heartthrob. Howard Kurtz on the 2012 vacuum that could help Obama. (Howard Kurtz, 1/28/11, Daily Beast)

[W]ith a number of potential aspirants—Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels—coming from the party’s so-called managerial wing, there is hunger for an anybody-but-Palin candidate on the true-believer right.

Huckabee is best positioned to fill that vacuum. He leads the latest Washington Post/ABC poll--with 21 percent to Palin’s 19 percent and Romney’s 17 percent--among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. That’s a margin-of-error lead, but he and Palin run most strongly among whites without college degrees and people with family incomes below $50,000. Not bad for a formerly overweight ex-Baptist preacher who started the 2008 with little money and less name recognition.

Huckabee stunned the punditocracy by winning Iowa and went on to capture seven other primaries and caucuses. The problem this time is he doesn’t want to give up his substantial income for another losing bid, which is why he’s putting things off until late summer.

“This is a very personal decision,” says Chip Saltsman, Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager. “I do think he’s got a great organization in the early states, and money people around the country have encouraged him and want to help. We don’t have to build an organization from scratch like last time. He’s got a following out there that will wait on him to make his decision.”

As Huckabee told me a year ago, “I’m not going to jump into a pool with no water… I like having a life. There's a certain level of enjoyment in the independence I have. Someone puts a microphone in my face and demands I answer a question, I can say, ‘Put it where the sun don't shine.’”

Those close to him say he fears his brand will be damaged if he runs and falters in the primaries (as opposed to winning the nomination and losing to Obama). In effect, they say, a draft-Huckabee movement will have to emerge by the spring to persuade him that he would have substantial support within the party, and not just its evangelical wing.

Some are already interpreting his decision to host a cruise to Alaska in June, and Saltsman’s hiring by a freshman House member, as signs that he won’t run. On the other hand, Huckabee’s upcoming book tour—can anyone run for president anymore without cranking out a hardcover?—includes nearly a dozen stops in Iowa and South Carolina.

But even if Huck gets in, the yearning is likely to continue. In 2008, some Republican elders were so dissatisfied with the field that they ginned up a movement for Fred Thompson—whose low-energy campaign sunk like a stone. The GOP is not very hospitable to insurgents of the Howard Dean or Gary Hart variety, and efforts to anoint one in a party that bows to seniority generally fizzle. That’s why John McCain and Bob Dole were nominated, despite widespread doubts about their prospects.

If Jeb Bush doesn't run there is no natural next-in-line, so the nominee will be a conservative Evangelical governor without an accent. the Congressmen who are considering vanity campaigns are non-starters. Huck and Palin won't give up their cash flow. Mitt Romney isn't considered Christian by much of the base. Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie are busy governing. It's T-Paw time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2011 7:34 AM
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