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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Huck Enters Veepstakes

Bloomberg political commentator Mark Halperin gives Mike Huckabee an overall “B” grade for his “Colloquial, Clever Appeal to the Working Class” in his presidential candidacy announcement. No reason to doubt the grade — The Huck can flat work a script.
But I have to wonder if Huckabee’s tour as a credible presidential nominee is going nowhere. I don’t doubt his ability to rally blue collar swing voters in the general election to some extent; it’s just hard to envision him outpolling the more lavishly-heeled and genteel Bush, Rubio or Walker in the GOP primaries, each of whom is chugging along nicely in the latest polls. Of course, anything can happen in such a large primary field.
I have no trouble, however, envisioning the media-savvy Huckabee on the GOP ticket as Spiro Agnew Jr., blasting away well-crafted one-liners. Dig his announcement jab at Jeb Bush: “I grew up blue collar; not blue blood” or remember, as I do with a grimace his put-down “Congress spends money like John Edwards in a Beauty Shop.”
A number of political commentators have noted the GOP candidates bragging abut their respective working-class childhoods. Not to doubt the authenticity of their social class origins, but none of them project it quite as shamelessly as does Huckabee. It’s not so much where you came from that makes a strong candidate with blue collar voters or any demographic group; it’s how well you connect with the constituency on all levels. Huckabee seems more comfortable in his skin with the blue collar meme than do Walker or Rubio, who also have working class roots. He may not walk the walk, but he can parrot the talk.
Huckabee’s facility with zingers may be just what the party Brahmins are looking for — in the number two spot. Halperin calls Huckabee ‘clever,’ but I wouldn’t object to shrewd, devious or conniving, which is kind of what you want in your attack-dog.
Rubio may be a better choice for the veepstakes, since he brings a big plus in the GOP’s quest for the elusive Latino vote and could excite young Republicans. But if he wins the presidential nomination, he’s going to want some extra entree with white, blue collar swing voters. Who better do the Republicans have to connect with this pivotal constituency and maybe even shore up rural voters, as well as disappointed religious wing-nuts?
Huckabee is expected to make much of his Arkansas pedigree as a candidate who knows how to stick it to the Clintons. But Huck became Governor because he was positioned in the Light Gov slot when Jim Guy Tucker resigned after being scandalized in the Whitewater mess. Further, Huckabee’s Arkansas record is tainted by his rap sheet as “a tax-raising big-spending criminal-coddler,” as Ed Kilgore has noted.
I don’t doubt that Huck is playing to win the presidential nomination. But I think the GOP mainstream wants a less devious, more trustworthy front-man, and sees Huckabee as a guy whose persona screams ‘Veep!’

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