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May 16th, 2011

Who Fills the Huckabee Void?

By Craig Robinson

In announcing that he will not be seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2012, Mike Huckabee reminded Iowans of why so many of them adored and voted for him in the 2008 caucuses. He’s a genuinely humble man.

Every candidate will tell you that they were motivated to run for office because of a calling to do good and make a difference in their local community, state, or nation. Yet, all too often we are confronted with political candidates who seem more interested in fame, prestige, power, and their own legacy. In fact, with some of these candidates, it seems that tending to the people’s business is not at the top of their to-do list.

That has never been the case with Huckabee. Whether or not you agreed with him on policy, it was difficult not to like the man. Some people laughed at the notion that a man with the last name of Huckabee could become America’s president. Recent polls, and even his 2008 campaign, have proved that his last name wasn’t an issue. While his name may no longer be the major obstacle to being elected president, it’s hard to see someone as nice and respectful as Huckabee being successful in the current political environment.

In a Fox News interview earlier this month, Huckabee pondered whether or not Ronald Reagan could even be successful in the current political environment. Huckabee pondered, “Do I believe that Republicans can do something other than Balkanize themselves, I worry about that … because there seems to be this sense of fracture where people want you to be everything or nothing.”

Those words provide some context to Huckabee’s decision not to run. While he was talking about the Republican Party as a whole, one cannot help but look at what is currently taking place in Iowa and draw some parallels.

The pro-life community in Iowa, which coalesced abound Huckabee in 2008, is currently in the midst of a nasty internal conflict. One side of the pro-life community is pushing for a fetal pain bill like the one that was passed in a number of other states this spring, while the other side, including State Rep. Kim Pearson, a 2008 Huckabee supporter, has fought the bill at every step.

Even before the unfortunate incident over tactics occurred, Iowa strangely became a difficult place for Huckabee. After a bitter gubernatorial primary that pitted Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa Caucus Chairman against Former Governor Branstad, Huckabee was slated to travel to Iowa to headline a political event for Branstad, with whom he served as a fellow governor and with whom he friends. Vander Plaats supporters raised a stink, and the event was cancelled.

In many ways, some of the most ardent Huckabee supporters were unable to let Huckabee be Huckabee. They wanted a biblical warrior who was quick to cast judgment, not the happy and optimistic candidate who could bring people from different walks of life together.

It was also telling that besides trips into the state that were designed to sell books, Huckabee only made four trips to Iowa after winning the 2008 caucuses. The first one was in April of 2009. He spoke to the Iowa Association of Business and Indistry before headlining a fundraiser for Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign. He came back again in the spring of 2010 to do another fundraiser for Vander Plaats, then returned for yet another fundraiser in November 2010 for The FAMiLY Leader, a group that Vander Plaats now leads.

Last month, he was in Des Moines for the Iowa Renewal Project, a private event for pastors, but Huckabee didn’t make any time for politicking during that trip either. If he was going to make another run, he never really acted like it.

Who benefits the most in Iowa from Huckabee’s decision not to run?

It will take some time for Huckabee’s most loyal supporters to find their way to another campaign, but if any candidate will benefit from Huckabee’s decision not to run, it’s Rick Santorum. Like Huckabee, Santorum has impeccable credentials when it comes to social conservative issues.

While not as good as a communicator as Huckabee is, Santorum has delivered some powerful and moving speeches in the past while getting to know Iowans. His address to the Iowa Christian Alliance in the spring of 2010 silenced the room as he delivered his pro-life testimony. His speech at this year’s Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event was equally powerful.

At this year’s speech, instead of sharing his personal beliefs on the abortion issue, Santorum used is speech to differentiate himself from the competition by telling the audience that he not only supports social conservative values, but he’s actually led on them, and as a result, he’s paid the price politically.

Huckabee’s supporters are going to be looking for an authentic social conservative to support. That means candidates with personal baggage like Newt Gingrich will struggle to earn their support. Likewise, a candidate like Tim Pawlenty, who is pro-life and supports traditional marriage, says all the right things, but isn’t considered a strong social conservative because, despite his eight years as governor, he doesn’t have many social conservatives victories to which he can point.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann would also be a natural home, but for as conservative of a firebrand as she has become, her forte is fiscal issues, not social issues. It’s also going to be difficult for Bachmann to convince Huckabee supporters that they need to join her campaign when there is not a campaign to join given that she has not yet made any formal move towards an actual presidential campaign.

Other candidates will also benefit from Huckabee’s announcement. In 2008, Huckabee was the alternative to the frontrunner in Iowa, Mitt Romney, which means that some of Huckabee’s supporters ended up supporting his campaign by default. That’s not a knock on Huckabee, it’s just a statement of the reality of a winnowed field as the caucuses approached. With candidates like Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo out of the race, many people found their way to Huckabee’s campaign.

Huckabee supporters should not be disappointed. Huckabee might have made a shrewd move by not running in 2012.

There is no doubt that Huckabee’s loyal supporters are disappointed with his decision not to run in 2012. For the past few months, they have watched Huckabee’s stock in the polls continue to rise. Inevitably, as his standing in the polls increased, so did their hopes for another presidential campaign.

It would only seem natural for Huckabee to run again since he did so well in his first attempt, but at 55 years old, he’s young enough to consider running in 2016 or even 2020 if he so chooses. Just because he took a pass on the 2012 races, doesn’t mean we will never see his name on a ballot again.

If Huckabee were part of the current field of candidates, he would be the third youngest candidate. He would only be older than Tim Pawlenty who is 50, and Rick Santorum who is 53. Huckabee is 20 years younger than Ron Paul, 12 years younger than Newt Gingrich, and nine years younger than Mitt Romney.

Running against an incumbent president is never easy, but running against a candidate who was able to transform himself in to some sort of name brand that can print an unlimited amount of money means that President Obama will be difficult to beat, regardless of all of his political disadvantages.

By taking a pass in 2012, Mike Huckabee can avoid a crowded and awkward field of Republican candidates and still be considered a potential frontrunner for future elections. It’s not as if Huckabee is going away. We will probably tune in and see what he has to say about the presidential race on Fox News. If the current crop of Republicans fails to knock off President Obama, I’m sure his phone is going to be ringing.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and TheIowaRepublican.com as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, TheIowaRepublcian.com. Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.




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