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Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Mike Huckabee and 2012: Under the Radar, Over the Airwaves

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Mike Huckabee is a very busy man.

The former Arkansas governor hosts his weekly television show, Huckabee, on FOX News. He campaigns for candidates that he endorses through his Huck PAC. Last month, it was announced that Huckabee would lead fundraising efforts as chancellor of the new Victory University Foundation in Memphis. He’s reportedly recording an album in Nashville and writing a children’s Christmas book. He is already a successful author.

In July he launched “The Huckabee Show.” Airing as a pilot in a handful of cities, it is closer to “Dr. Phil” than “Meet the Press.” The show’s website calls Huckabee “a preacher who accepts all, a politician that never plays politics and a host unlike any other.”

Huckabee also leads tour groups on trips to Israel. He made one earlier this year with crooner Pat Boone during which he interviewed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in the Middle East as part of his work as an envoy to the region. He will take another group to the Holy Land in January.

To Huckabee watchers, it appears that he is flying under the radar to build up his national following for a future campaign for the White House. But considering his many roles, is he too busy for a presidential run in 2012? Not according to longtime confidants, who think Huckabee will make another try despite his failed bid two years ago.

This week, Huckabee topped the pack of potential candidates in a 2012 caucus poll commissioned by TheIowaRepublican.com website. Huckabee garnered 22 percent to Mitt Romney’s 19 percent. Newt Gingrich received 14 percent, Sarah Palin 11 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul 5 percent, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and South Dakota Sen. John Thune 1 percent each.

“It feels a lot better than it did this time four years ago, when I was an asterisk there,” Huckabee told Politics Daily.

Huckabee’s showing doesn’t surprise political watchers in Iowa, the state that kicks off the 2012 political season. Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 with 34 percent of the vote to Romney’s 25 percent. But Huckabee failed to repeat his success in the string of primary states that followed.

“He had the grassroots organization,” said Tim Hagel, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa. “He came in, did not have a national name, did not have the funds, but he did the exact correct thing you have to do in Iowa with the grassroots. He got volunteers talking to other volunteers. He had coffees. That’s what gets people out on a caucus night.”

In his first run for president, Huckabee made inroads in Iowa soon after the 2004 election. As Arkansas governor, he traveled there several times, a move Pawlenty is now mirroring. Of late, Huckabee hasn’t visited the state, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t planning a 2012 run.

In the age of social media, Huckabee and other potential presidential candidates don’t have to practically live in a state to keep their names out front. But the Huckabee brand doesn’t rely solely on Facebook and Twitter. “I spend about five nights a week, sometimes six in hotels and I’m often on planes four and five days a week,” he said. In addition to his television endeavors, he also hosts a radio segment, “The Huckabee Report,” on the Citadel Broadcast Network, which is beamed to almost 600 stations across the country.

“Shows are going great,” he said in an e-mail. “Doing a six-week preview for possible syndication in broadcast next year as well as the weekend show. Dream guests would include Keith Richards, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, and Dustin Hoffman. I’ve had many of my dream guests including Robert Duvall.” He recently hosted movie star Raquel Welch and rocker Meat Loaf on his weekend show.

With so many irons in the fire, would Huckabee give up his growing media empire for politics? Hagel thinks he could have it both ways, short of a presidential bid.

“He has a pretty good gig,” Hagel says. “In some sense, he could have his television show and be kind of a player in politics, doing appearances and the endorsement route.”

This week, Huckabee announced 11 endorsements in Iowa.

He began his career as a Southern Baptist preacher, but also mixed in media. When he led congregations at churches in two Arkansas cities, he hosted a program called “Positive Alternatives.”

Huckabee has always used media wisely to get out his message. On his Huck PAC website this week, he weighed in against the proposed mosque near Ground Zero: “The President and other supporters of this incredibly insensitive idea should do no less than listen to the families and loved ones of the three thousand murdered victims — and at least consider whether there isn’t a compromise that can be reached,” he wrote.

Huckabee doesn’t always align with the GOP, especially on immigration issues. He has not joined the conservative bandwagon to change the 14th Amendment to prohibit automatic citizenship for children of illegal immigrants.

As Arkansas’ governor from 1996 to 2007, Huckabee was an ardent supporter of the state’s Hispanic community. The state hosted the national League of United Latin American Citizens convention while Huckabee was in office. He supported legislation that would have allowed college aid for high school graduates who entered the United States illegally. The legislation didn’t pass. Huckabee also helped the state gain a Mexican consulate while he was governor.

Huckabee told Politics Daily that the three most important issues currently facing the United States are the economy and jobs, the change to big government socialism, and the threat of radical Islam.

If Huckabee does dip back into political waters, his opponents would surely attack him on his decisions as governor to grant clemencies and pardons.

He commuted and accepted recommendations for pardon for twice as many prisoners — more than 1,000 — than his three predecessors. He commuted the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, who had committed burglary with a weapon, in order for Clemmons to receive parole. He was released in 2000 but continued on a crime spree. In November 2009, Clemmons was sought in connection with the murder of four police officers in Lakewood, Wash. He was killed during a manhunt.

Earlier this year, Huckabee shocked his home state when he relocated his official residence from Arkansas to Florida, a key state on the path to the presidency. At the time Huckabee told me, “We are keeping our house in Arkansas, but splitting our time between Arkansas, New York and Florida. Some of my business endeavors make the Florida residency more convenient for now.”

In June, the Republican Party of Arkansas hosted its annual dinner. The night honored the only three Republican governors in Arkansas since Reconstruction. Two are deceased. Huckabee was a no-show. While no Republican wanted to go on the record to whine about Huckabee’s absence, several said his nonappearance likely meant he wasn’t considering another White House run.

Others are not so quick to dismiss a Huckabee candidacy. But don’t expect a replay of his 2008 bid.

Rex Nelson, who was Huckabee’s communications director while in the governor’s office, said that Huckabee will likely run only if he has more commitments from key Republican fundraisers.

“He ran his last campaign on a shoestring and was still near the top,” said Nelson, now a Little Rock-based public relations consultant who writes a blog called “Southern Fried.” “I just don’t think he would run on a shoestring again in 2012. He would make a tremendous nominee. And polls show he is highly popular among Republican primary voters. But some of the so-called whales from the GOP fundraising establishment are going to have to get on board this time. If their strongest potential Republican nominee sits on the sideline, they will have only themselves to blame.”

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Written by suziparker1313

March 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm

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