Rupert Myers is a barrister and writer.
When the next US presidential race rolls into town in 2012, the Republicans may pick as their candidate someone who received an unusually low level of attention in the British press in 2008, and yet came second in the delegate count to John McCain, and third behind Mitt Romney in the popular vote. He didn't come from a wealthy background, or have an illustrious war record, but he was the only candidate endorsed by Chuck Norris, and the only candidate with his own rock band, Capitol Offense. He was in a statistical dead heat for the 2012 presidential election with Barack Obama according to a poll conducted late last year , tied with Obama in a recent poll and yet few people seem to know the name of Governor Mike Huckabee.
The quick witted former Arkansas Governor has a rhetorical skill which far outshines that of Sarah Palin: his answers in relation to the death penalty and Jesus in the last nomination contest were smarter, better constructed, and indeed funnier than those of his rivals. Despite being socially conservative, Huckabee has also managed to pick up praise and political cooperation from Bill Clinton. Whilst staunchly Republican, Huckabee was one of the few politicians with the personal appeal, and bravery to face left-wing comedians on live television in the last election campaign, appearing both on the Colbert Report and in interview with Jon Stewart.
The time has come to look closely at Mike Huckabee. For a large number of people, his views will be considered extreme, and possibly bizarre, but Huckabee is testing the waters on a 2012 campaign and with some cause to be taken seriously.
There already signs that Palin may not run – the attempted trademarking of her name is widely seen as a move towards commercialisation rather than politicisation – and some quarters of the press are starting to tire of Sarah Palin. Huckabee himself has bemoaned the fact that Palin gets all of the coverage when Huckabee is the more fluent candidate. The former Baptist Minister is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. His socially conservative, religiously inspired flavour of politics can be divisive, but his great gift is being able to package himself in a way which seems to be both genuine, and accessible. Somehow he is both of the right, and of the centre – considered to be a truly bipartisan politician. Journalists this side of the pond are focussing in on Palin, and missing a candidate who may yet be the real surprise.
By a whisker, the front-runner at the moment for the Republican candidate is now Mitt Romney, whose matching in popularity (44%) is put by Rasmussen as just above Obama’s (42%) where Huckabee would be tied with the incumbent (43%) which just goes to show that the race is wide open. By far the best campaign video so far belongs to Tim Pawlenty, whose ‘Courage to Stand’ looks like a pretty decent trailer for a Hollywood film, but the signs point towards a Republican contest which will have the issue of religion at the very foreground. Romney was forced into producing a remarkable speech – Faith In America – last time around, because of his Mormonism. With both the lead candidates heavily influenced and heavily perceived as religiously motivated figures, it may well come down to who can express those views most appealingly, and most fluently. If it comes down to which Republican can best ‘do God,’ then Huckabee is the man to watch.