The Mike Huckabee Phenomenon

If you pay attention to political news, you’ve heard of Mike Huckabee. My formal introduction came Sunday morning on This Week, and I found it interesting. Not as interesting, perhaps, as if Stephanopolus had tried to get original in his questions. There are a set of “issues” that are supposed to be difficult for Huckabee, (immigration, raising taxes) and he seems to receive regular scrutiny on these points. Because of that, however, he has his answers well prepared, and he is very good at looking relaxed while being “grilled”.

But the polls are shifting in Iowa and now it appears that Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee could shake-up the Iowa race:

One month before Iowans kick off the long march to the November 2008 election, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee are threatening to turn the tense U.S. presidential race upside down.

Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Mitt Romney have seen once stable leads in Iowa evaporate as their challengers surge forward, leaving a tight and unsettled contest for both parties’ nominations in the Midwestern state.

“Everything is in flux, but I don’t see anyone breaking away from the pack,” said Mark Smith, president of the Iowa state AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions.

“This could all shift again. Some people are just starting to think about the race and a lot of people aren’t sure about it yet.”

A Des Moines Register poll on Sunday found Obama narrowly leading Clinton and John Edwards among Iowa Democrats, and a Pew Research Center-AP poll on Monday gave Clinton a slight edge.

Huckabee held a small lead over Romney among Republicans in the Register poll, with Rudy Giuliani, who is ahead in national polls but has not focused on Iowa, trailing badly in third place.


But Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and a former Baptist minister, has been aided by growing support among the state’s sizable bloc of religious conservatives, who often effectively organize themselves through their churches.

Polls show that group is also the most skeptical of Romney’s Mormon religion, which some evangelicals consider a cult. Romney plans a speech on Thursday addressing questions about his faith and the role it would play in his presidency, although aides said the tightening race was not a factor in the timing.

“It would be a severe blow to Romney if he didn’t finish first here,” said Dennis Goldford, a political analyst at Drake University in Des Moines.

Having previously been a Baptist Minister, Huckabee has the obvious challenge of facing the general electorate in a position where his views on evolution and abortion will not match those of most people, and in a setting where many people are just not comfortable with the thought of putting a born again Christian in charge of the country. These subjects were certainly available for exploration on This Week, and it would have been a much more interesting show to me if the Governor had been given a chance to open up on them.

In all honesty, though, I’ve put Huckabee in the “weak candidate” category ever since I learned that one of his major ideas is a version of a flat tax. Steve Forbes displayed how truly little attraction Americans have for that proposal, and I just don’t see a warmed over version of it, put on sale after the Bush fiasco, finding any more buyers than before. I know that the numbers can be explained to some extent, but having people voluntarily replace their home mortgage deduction with a 30% sales tax is too much of a miracle to ask for from any President, even a man of the cloth.

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