I've long agreed with Kos that Mike Huckabee is the guy in the Republican field I'd least like to see us face in the general. Probably thanks to his experience as a pastor, he connects well with people both in person and on television. He doesn't have the baggage of the Republicans in Congress (voting in lockstep with Bush on Iraq and everything else). He has that inspiring personal story about overcoming obesity, a non-partisan issue that is salient for millions of Americans. He has executive experience. Particularly against Hillary, I think Huckabee spells trouble for us.
That said, I am not sure whether Huckabee's surprisingly strong showing in the Iowa GOP straw poll is good or bad for Democrats.
As you probably know, Huckabee finished second with 2,587 votes, or about 18 percent of the total cast in Ames. I think most of us would agree with Don at Cyclone Conservatives, who called Huckabee the big winner of the day.
His campaign spent about $150,000 on the event, including about 1,850 tickets they purchased for supporters. The group Americans for Fair Taxation claimed credit for Huckabee's strong showing; they spent about as much as the Huckabee campaign on the straw poll and bused about 1,500 people to the event (including about 500 who could vote).
Asked by Iowa Independent what helped Huckabee in Ames, his campaign manager Chip Saltsman said, “We talked a lot about the fair tax.”
In the comments section below that Iowa Independent story, Polk County Republican Party chairman Ted Sporer agreed:
Huckabee's committment to the Fair Tax is one of the reasons he is surging in our primaries because it is a specific tangible policy that addresses a specific policy itch in the Republican shoe, a dislike of hte convoluted tax code.
This is a mainstream R issue and Huckabee has found a simple and attractive way to address the issue and to stand for something tangible.
Huckabee only edged out Sam Brownback (who, like Mitt Romney opposes the fair tax proposal) by about 400 votes. Take away those Iowans bused in by Americans for Fair Taxation and you'd have a very different story coming out of Ames.
What interests me most about Huckabee's showing is that he did it despite attack ads that the Club for Growth has been running against him on Iowa television stations. Presumably, they were trying to take him out of the running before the straw poll, and they clearly failed miserably.
Political insiders and junkies have known for a long time that the Club for Growth hates Huckabee, but their very public spanking of him (comparing his record as a tax-raising governor to Bill Clinton) seems to have prompted Huckabee to ratchet up his rhetoric against the business wing of the GOP.
Check out this clip from Hardball last week (hat tip to noneed4thneed).
I've watched it several times, and I still can't believe that a Republican went on tv accusing others of letting the GOP become “a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the corporations” that have let workers make money for their companies and then end up in the poorhouse.
Huckabee says it's unacceptable for CEOs to make 500 times the salary of their workers and get huge bonuses while they drive their companies into bankruptcy. He talks about coming from a working class family and how he remembers his dad struggling.
I mean, does he sound like he's channeling John Edwards, or what? No wonder the Club for Growth hates this guy.
Now, I repeat that I would not want to face Huckabee in the general. He would excite the GOP religious base and not come across as too objectionable to independents. He is a social conservative, but he comes across as less scary than, say, Brownback.
But when I think about Huckabee making the top tier, getting more mainstream media coverage while portraying the GOP as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and big business, I smile.
Having a Republican reinforce this stereotype will reach many voters who would tune out a Democrat making similar allegations.
You know how the liberal blogosphere goes nuts whenever a prominent Democrat lends support to a right-wing frame about Democrats? Like, when someone like Barack Obama says that all too often Democrats have seemed hostile to mentioning religion in public?
Well, think how mad the other Republicans will be if Huckabee keeps carrying the “GOP in bed with big business” frame to the mass public. What has he got to lose? The Club for Growth is attacking him anyway. There are a decent number of working class or struggling middle class Republicans who will probably like his populist message.
I've always felt that part of the Republicans' success is that they don't campaign against each other by repeating negative stereotypes about the party. You don't hear them saying, “I'm not like all those other Republicans who just carry water for big business and screw the little guy.”
Huckabee just may be about to prove me wrong.
And if the Club for Growth and other candidates do crush his candidacy, it will only demonstrate the fact that business interests really do get their way with today's GOP.
The big risk for Democrats, of course, is that if Huckabee catches fire and manages to win the nomination, we'll have a much harder time making an “economic fairness” case against him.
What do the rest of you think?