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He's A Long Shot, But Don't Count Huckabee Out

Jul 22, 2012
Originally published on July 23, 2012 11:08 am

Among the many contenders who could wind up becoming presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's running mate, there are some potential surprises — like former presidential candidate-turned TV and radio host Mike Huckabee.

Putting Huckabee on the GOP ticket could certainly liven up the presidential race. In addition to being a respected former governor of Arkansas, he's well known for his good-natured public persona. At a Huckabee campaign event, you might find him playing an electric bass with the old-time rock 'n' roll band Capitol Offense.

Playfulness aside, one big plus is that Huckabee has been tested, having run a surprisingly strong race for the Republican nomination four years ago.

A Tried And True Conservative

"You know I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to love a state as much as I love my home state of Arkansas, but tonight, I love Iowa a whole lot," Huckabee said after winning the 2008 Iowa caucuses, thanks to a big turnout among evangelical voters. But his underfunded campaign faded in later contests.

Many think he'd have been a front-runner this year, given his strong 2008 showing, his vastly improved name recognition and better fundraising.

But last spring, he disappointed potential followers with this statement on his weekend TV show on Fox News: "I can't know or predict the future, but I know for now my answer is clear and firm. I will not seek the Republican nomination for president this year."

A vice presidential race, however, is hardly the two-year grind of a presidential run.

Janine Parry, a political scientist and pollster at the University of Arkansas, says Huckabee would provide some real positives as Romney's running mate.

"I think the most obvious way in which it would be a good decision and a comprehensible decision is that it shores up his support with Christian evangelicals," Parry says.

So far this year, evangelicals have been lukewarm toward Romney, but if he needs independent voters, then Huckabee — a former Baptist minister — likely wouldn't help much.

Shy Of Confrontation?

Huckabee's likability is a plus. It's a driving force behind his daily talk radio show, where his promos say it's about conversation, not confrontation.

"I have people on my show that are as polar opposite of me philosophically as someone can be, but I'm always going to treat them with respect," he said in an interview earlier this year with NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik.

Such talk doesn't necessarily make Huckabee a good pick to play the traditional role often assigned to the vice presidential nominee, that of attack dog. Still, he demonstrated on his show this week that he is comfortable going negative.

"It's all about this crazy stuff that Obama's been going off on this week about business, and how that if you're successful in business, you didn't do it — wasn't your doing, the government did it for you," Huckabee said.

Like Romney, Huckabee is happy to skip the context in which the president made that statement earlier this month in Roanoke, Va.

Other likely disqualifiers for Huckabee are the controversial commutations and pardons he handed out as governor, including some where people committed violent crimes after their release. Then there's Huckabee's record of tax increases as governor, which was an issue in 2008.

On top of that, there's no indication Huckabee would even say yes if picked.

But if he did, Parry says, "It would not be dull. I think that it could really sizzle." With the possible danger that Huckabee might outshine the ticket's lead singer.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Among possible vice presidential picks, we don't want to overlook dark horses with veep potential. In that spirit, NPR's Don Gonyea has this look at former Governor, former presidential candidate and current TV and radio host Mike Huckabee.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Putting Mike Huckabee on the ticket could certainly liven up the race. In addition to being a respected former governor, he's well-known for his good-natured public persona. At a Huckabee campaign event you might find him with playing an electric bass with an old time rock and roll band. Like this:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PROUD MARY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) ...down in New Orleans...

GONYEA: Playfulness aside, one big plus is that Huckabee has been tested, having run a surprisingly strong race for the GOP nomination four years ago, including winning the Iowa caucuses.

MIKE HUCKABEE: You know, I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to love a state as much as I love my home state of Arkansas. But tonight, I love Iowa a whole lot.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Huckabee won Iowa, thanks to a big turnout among evangelical voters. But his underfunded campaign faded in later contests. Many think he'd have been a front-runner this year given his strong showing in '08, his vastly improved name recognition and better fundraising. But last spring, he disappointed potential followers with this statement on his weekend TV show on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HUCKABEE")

HUCKABEE: I can't know or predict the future. But I know for now my answer is clear and firm: I will not seek the Republican nomination for president this year.

GONYEA: But a vice presidential race is hardly the two-year grind of a presidential run. And Janine Parry, a political scientist and pollster at the University of Arkansas, says Huckabee would provide some real positives for Romney.

JANINE PARRY: The most obvious way in which it would be a good decision is that it shores up his support with Christian evangelicals.

GONYEA: Over the course of the year, evangelicals have been lukewarm toward Mitt Romney. But if Romney needs independent voters, then Huckabee - a former Baptist minister - likely wouldn't help there much. Huckabee's likability is a plus. It's a driving force behind his daily talk radio show, where his promos say it's about conversation, not confrontation.

HUCKABEE: I have people on my show that are as polar opposite of me philosophically as someone can be. But I'm always going to treat them with respect.

GONYEA: Such talk doesn't necessarily make Huckabee a good pick to play the traditional role often assigned to the vice presidential nominee, that of attack dog. Still, he demonstrated on his show this week that he is comfortable going negative.

HUCKABEE: It's all about this crazy stuff that Obama has been going off on this week about business. And how that if you're successful in business you didn't do it. Wasn't you're doing, the government did it for you

GONYEA: Like Romney, Huckabee is happy to skip the full context of the president's statement.

Other likely disqualifiers for Huckabee are the controversial commutations and pardons he handed out as governor, including some where people committed violent crimes after their release. Then there's his record of tax hikes as governor. That was an issue in '08. On top of that, there's no indication Huckabee would say yes if asked.

But, says Professor Janine Parry, if he were...

PARRY: It would not be dull. I think that it could really sizzle.

GONYEA: With the possible danger that Huckabee might outshine the ticket's lead singer.

Don Gonyea NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOHNNY B. GOODE")

CHUCK BERRY: (Singing) Many people coming from miles around to hear you play your music when the sun go down. Maybe someday your name will be in lights, saying Johnny B. Goode tonight. So, go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go. Go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go. Go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go. Go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go, Johnny B. Goode.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.