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Welcome, 2011: Sarah Palin and Julian Assange on the Radar Screen

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Ready or not, 2011 is here.

Consider some of these upcoming historic milestones as the new year arrives. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of Jefferson Davis becoming president of the Confederacy, the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech (actually, his 1941 State of the Union address), the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s first presidential news conference — and the first ever to be broadcast live on television), and 25 years since the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

But 2011 will have its own special history, and here are some of the events that will help write it:

Sarah Palin’s presidential decision: Palin will have to decide this year whether to run for president. In order to compete in the 2012 primaries, she will have to soon start building a ground game in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Sure, she has her reality television show, two books, and husband Todd may show up on the next “Dancing With the Stars,” but Palin must do much more than be a household name to win a crowded GOP primary.

Sarah Palin, Julian AssangeThe former Alaska governor accumulated a lot of favors in the midterm election by supporting winning candidates in key presidential states — such as Nikki Haley in South Carolina — via her Sarah PAC. But she has a lot of work to do on the popularity front. A recent poll by CNN/Opinion Research shows that Palin would offer the weakest challenge to President Obama among current top-tier GOP contenders.

Time is ticking for Palin to make a decision because there are . . .

GOP primary debates: Yes, they’re already in the works. The Reagan Presidential Foundation will kick off the election season by hosting a panel of GOP presidential candidates in the spring. Then there’s June 7, 2011: That’s the date of the first presidential debate in New Hampshire for the 2012 GOP primary. The candidate forum will be sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader, WMUR-TV, and CNN. Likely participants: Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. Wild cards: Palin, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush.

Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding: The royal couple will tie the knot on Friday, April 29 at the thousand-year-old Westminster Abbey in London. The wedding may not draw as massive a crowd as gathered for Williams’ parents’ nuptials 30 years ago in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but the media will certainly provide massive coverage. Prime Minister David Cameron has already designated the date as a public holiday.

The event will require major security, the cost of which could top $8 million. British special forces will go undercover with Afghan war veterans from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment to watch for any potential attacks around Westminster Abbey. The wedding will also boost tourism — one company has launched a walking tour of locations that helped “define the next royal golden couple.” Also on tap: Kate is soon to be immortalized in wax by Madame Tussauds, and the royal couple will be featured on a British coin.

Julian Assange’s autobiography: No date has been set for the book’s release, which will be published sometime in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf and Britain’s Cannongate. The WikiLeaks founder is fighting extradition from England to Sweden, where he faces questioning for alleged sex crimes. Assange has said he doesn’t want to write a book but must do so in order to cover his ballooning legal costs and to continue funding his whistleblower website, which has angered and embarrassed governments worldwide by releasing hundreds of thousands of confidential cables and other documents.

To capitalize on (and extend) Assange’s 15 minutes of fame, Knopf will likely have to publish the book sooner rather than later. Assange will also likely cash in on a movie adaption of the book, especially since his story seems to have all the components — mystery, intrigue and sex — that sell tickets.

The space shuttle retirement: In 2011, America’s space shuttle will blast into orbit for the final time. The last scheduled flight is in early April. NASA is retiring its shuttle fleet after 30 years of service to make way for future programs that will send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 — part of Obama’s new space exploration initiative. The president cancelled NASA’s Constellation program, which was developing new vehicles to send astronauts back to the moon. The end of the shuttle means that the United States will soon have to hitch rides with the Russians to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Last year, former astronaut (and senator) John Glenn condemned the cancellation of the shuttle program. In a statement, he lamented that “for the next five to ten years, the launches of U.S. astronauts into space will be viewed in classrooms and homes in America only through the courtesy of Russian TV. For the ‘world’s greatest spacefaring nation,’ this is hard to accept.”

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Mike Huckabee: Serious Competition for Sarah Palin in 2012

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Sarah Palin may have met her political match in Mike Huckabee.

Both have been criss-crossing the country on book tours. Both hold degrees in communication. Both hunt and fish. Both use various media to hit their target audiences.

But while Palin often generates anger, Huckabee takes the Will Rogers road. He has an aw-shucks demeanor, freely cracking jokes, shaking hands and chatting with the media while Palin shuns reporters.

Already road-tested by a 2008 White House run, Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, may just be the strongest GOP candidate to take on Palin in a primary and President Barack Obama in a general election.

Huckabee, so far, ranks high in favorability polls.

A Quinnipac poll on Nov. 22 showed Huckabee in a statistical dead heat with Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

In a Marist College poll on Nov. 24, Huckabee and Palin were virtually tied in popularity among Republicans who were not college graduates. But Huckabee pulled ahead significantly — 18 percent to Palin’s 9 percent — among respondents with college degrees. Huckabee came in second to Romney, who polled on top with 25 percent, among college-educated Republicans.
The high ratings mirror Huckabee’s numbers when he was governor. According to the yearly Arkansas Poll, Huckabee only dipped below 50 percent once from 1999 to 2006. In 2003, he hit a 47 percent approval rating, but the next year had 58 percent.

“He compares favorably to his leading competitors at the moment,” says Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll at the University of Arkansas. “His unfavorable numbers are significantly lower, he’s penetrated the mainstream culture without becoming clownish, and he’s demonstrated a willingness – even eagerness – to be a practical, truly bipartisan leader. In this environment and in a general election at least, those seem like substantial assets.”

Huckabee’s career from Southern Baptist minister to politician is one of determination and ambition. The lesson for his opponents: He takes chances and he doesn’t give up easily.

From 1989 to 1991, Huckabee served as the youngest-ever elected president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. While well-known in church circles, Huckabee was a complete unknown in the political arena. But yet he took on a political legend, Sen. Dale Bumpers, for the U.S. Senate in 1992. He lost, but he received 40 percent of the vote.

In 1993, then-GOP State Chairman Asa Hutchinson urged Huckabee to run in a special election for lieutenant governor after Bill Clinton left the governor’s office to become president and Lt. Gov.Jim Guy Tucker became governor.

Huckabee ran against attorney Nate Coulter and won by a razor-thin margin. He ran a campaign against the state’s dominant Democratic establishment with the slogan, “Unplug the Machine.” In November 1994, he was re-elected to a four-year term.

While Huckabee planned another Senate run in 1996 for retiring Democratic Sen. David Pryor’s seat, his plans changed when Tucker resigned as governor after he got caught up in the Clinton Whitewater scandal and was convicted of fraud.

Huckabee faced a legislature with 89 Democrats out of 100 legislators in the House and only four Republicans in the 35-seat Senate. Yet, Huckabee found a way to govern.

“Huckabee’s great gift as governor was to be pretty ideologically in sync with a state that was conservative on social issues but believed in government,” says Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. “He took moderate, pro-government stances that were in step with the state and even on social issues, he didn’t push much.”

 

Barth cautions that Huckabee’s moderate stances on children’s health care and allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend college may not sit well with tea party voters who align with Palin.

During his 2008 presidential run, Huckabee played well as a candidate. He won the Iowa caucuses and came in second in South Carolina. He stayed in the race although Republicans were urging him to concede the primary to Sen. John McCain.

If he chooses to run again, Huckabee can claim Southern and Baptist credentials in Dixie and play the populist card in Iowa and New Hampshire. In California recently, he signed books at the Reagan Library — a tip of the hat to “The Great Communicator.”

In 2007, Ed Rollins, a Republican consultant and a Reagan national campaign manager, said, “Governor Huckabee has probably inspired me as much as Ronald Reagan. He had an ability to connect with people and he was a great communicator. I’ve looked for a long time for another candidate to do that.”

Meanwhile, Palin chose to stay in the heartland and South during her book tour and appeared in Huckabee’s Arkansas.

Huckabee’s weakness during the 2008 campaign was lack of money — something that Palin certainly knows how to generate. But those who know him say Huckabee is a quick study.

“Huckabee always learns from his defeats, whether they are political defeats or legislative defeats,” says Rex Nelson, Huckabee’s communications director while in the governor’s office. “He lost his first political race to U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers in 1992, adjusted and never lost another race in Arkansas. The 2008 race was one big learning experience for him since it was his first national race. If he seeks the nomination in 2012, he will be an even better candidate.”

Still, his Huck PAC has a lot less money than Palin’s or Romney’s. Huckabee had $194,578.01 on hand at the end of the last reporting period in November, compared to $1.2 million for Sarah PAC or $1 million for Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC.
But there are signs Huckabee is starting to shift gears.

In recent weeks, as Palin took her book to the Midwest and South and appeared in Huckabee’s Arkansas, Huckabee touted his book and became more vocal on current events, including WikiLeaks, tax cuts and health care. Earlier this year, Huckabee moved to Florida, a key presidential primary state, where he is building a $3 million beach house. He aligned himself last year with Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, a popular tea party candidate.

While Palin heads to Haiti this week and plans a trip to Israel next year, Huckabee has visited Israel more than 10 times as a pastor and a politician. He plans another trip in late January to Israel, similar to a trip he took earlier this year with Christian crooner Pat Boone. He is an ardent supporter of Israel and can talk at length about the problems it faces.

On his PAC’s website, Huckabee is trying to raise $15,000 by the end of the month. He has started to update his Facebook page and Twitter account more frequently. Social media is a tool Palin uses with great frequency to get out her message.

More than Romney or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Barth sees Palin as Huckabee’s biggest obstacle in a Republican primary.

“She’s a fresher face than Huckabee,” Barth says. “She has really courted the tea party a little better than Huckabee. But if she doesn’t run, he is a strong, strong candidate for the nomination.”

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm