2016 Caucus

January 5th, 2015

Huckabee Gets Serious about 2016

Mike Huckabee at Iowa GOP LifeThe race for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 is starting fast. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced last month that he was seriously considering running for the nation’s highest office, and he followed up that announcement by removing himself from all the boards and organizations he served on at the end of the year. Bush is obviously very serious about a presidential run, but so is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

At the end of his self-titled weekend show on the FOX News network, Huckabee announced that it would be his final show on the network as he considers a 2016 presidential campaign. Huckabee’s decision to walk away from his show on FOX shows just how serious he is about a 2016 run.

As the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Huckabee would enter the 2016 presidential race with a higher profile than he did the last time he ran. Huckabee labored in Iowa for months before taking off, but now with a win under his belt, Huckabee will be expected to meet and exceed expectations in the First-in-the-Nation caucus state.

That may be a tall order with prominent social conservatives like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum all likely to be vying for the support of the state’s religious conservatives. Huckabee’s 2008 victory in Iowa was powered by his charming personality, his promotion of the Fair Tax – a national sales tax in lieu of an income tax, and views on social issues.

Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa campaign benefited greatly from a field of candidates that shrunk considerably after the Republican Party of Iowa’s Straw Poll in Ames. Huckabee’s strong second place finish at the event was viewed by the media as a big victory. It was almost as if Romney’s victory in Ames never happened. More importantly, the straw poll forced other socially conservative candidates like Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo out of the race all together.

By the fall, Iowa caucus goers were basically given the choice between Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and a faltering Fred Thompson. It was an easy choice for the state’s evangelical voters as Huckabee was a natural fit for them. Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa campaign was the perfect combination of great timing, an extremely likable candidate with a fantastic speaking ability, and weak opposition.

As we look ahead to what 2016 may bring, it’s understandable why Huckabee would be bullish about his Iowa prospects. While he doesn’t have a plug and play campaign team waiting for him to pull the trigger on a presidential campaign in Iowa, he does have some devoted supporters who are eager to begin organizing for a second Huckabee campaign.

In the six years since Huckabee’s victory in Iowa, things have changed in Iowa. Perhaps the biggest change is that gay marriage has begun in the state since 2009. While a majority of caucus goers still believe that marriage should be the union of one man and one woman, gay marriage as a political issues isn’t what it once was. In 2008, Bob Vander Plaats played a major role in Huckabee’s campaign from the beginning. Now Vander Plaats uses the caucuses to increase the profile of his pro-family organization The Family Leader.

Vander Plaats’ organization plays host to multiple candidate events on an annual basis and is already in the planning stages for its 2015 events. That means that Huckabee will be without his key Iowa organizer for most, if not all, of the Iowa caucus campaign. Even though it’s hard to envision Vander Plaats saying anything negative about Huckabee, his new role as the president of the Family Leader will require him to keep his powder dry so he can once again get multiple candidates to attend the group’s events and attempt to advance his socially conservative positions.

Huckabee may come into the 2016 presidential race as more of a celebrity than he was in 2007, but he still has to overcome the critical obstacle of raising the type of money it will take to run a legitimate presidential campaign, not just in Iowa, but in other states as well. Raising money proved to be difficult for Huckabee in his 2008 race, and his leadership PAC hasn’t been raising eye-popping figures since he ended his 2008 campaign.

Huckabee is one of the best communicators that the Republican Party has, but his skills will be tested in a field that may include other strong conservative candidates. There is Rick Santorum, an Iowa Caucus winner himself, who displayed grit and tenacity in his 2012 campaign. Like Huckabee, he’s a natural fit for religious conservatives, but Santorum is probably the best candidate in the field as far as foreign policy is concerned. Santorum has also become a hardliner on immigration, an issue on which Huckabeeis generally seen as weak. Should Santorum run again, you can bet that hewill put up quite a fight.

While two former Iowa Caucus winners squaring off against each out would provide plenty of political theater, both of them could lose supporters to someone like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has been viewed as a conservative warrior during his short time in the U.S. Senate. Even though Cruz doesn’t have pre-existing relationships in Iowa to lean on, being a fresh face has plenty of advantages.

Then there are two sitting Governors who could woo Iowa conservatives if they choose to run for president in 2016. Bobby Jindal is as smart as they come and articulate to boot. And don’t forget about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has built quite a record of accomplishments under difficult circumstances. Walker’s not going to take a back seat to anyone if he runs, and when you put his record as governor up against the rest of the field, it’s easy to understand why.

Huckabee’s decision to leave FOX and focus on testing the waters for a presidential run in 2016 shows us how serious he really is. I like the fact that he’s not playing it safe like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has announced he’s running for re-election to the U.S. Senate and thinking about running for president too. Huckabee could have played his cards differently, and while he’s not formally a candidate, he’s not playing games with people either. If he does run, Huckabee will need to be prepared to run a much more aggressive campaign than he did in 2008. A lot has changed since 2008, most notably his opposition within the Republican Party.

Buckle up. It looks like 2015 is going to be a fun ride.


Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com

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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