Cover Story

Huckabee's surge

"Huckabee's surge" Continued...

Issue: "Out from the shadows," Dec. 22, 2007

He speaks movingly about the work and sacrifice of his mother and father, and about his father taking him to hear the governor of Arkansas because "you may live your whole life and never meet a governor." Addressing a roomful of successful business owners and politicians on Dec. 8, he offered a message that is true and bears repeating: "In America you don't have to end where you start."

He speaks about "issues that are fundamental," including traditional marriage-"not because we are against anybody but because we are for something: the preservation of our society." He speaks about the sanctity of life: "It gets to the heart of who we are. . . . Government did not give it [the right to life] and it cannot take it away." That last line on Dec. 8 produced a standing ovation for Huckabee.

The immigration issue is harder for him. He says that "we ought to thank God we live in a country where people are trying to get into this country and not trying to get out." But immigration has become the third rail of GOP politics, and it will be fascinating to see whether Huckabee's "Secure America Plan" to build the border fence and enforce immigration law can assuage anti-immigration conservatives who have not applauded the candidate's compassionate approach.

Other parts of Huckabee's stump speech will be played up by his opponents. He trumpets his plan to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and to substitute a consumption tax for the income tax. Huckabee's critics are claiming that he is a higher-tax fat man in a slimmed-down body. His Main Street populism and hat-tips toward environmentalism and strict anti-smoking measures have already riled The Wall Street Journal and worried libertarians.

Much has been made of Huckabee's background in the same town and state that produced Bill Clinton: Are Americans ready to vote for another Arkansan? But Huckabee, who did not mention Iraq or Afghanistan in his Dec. 8 speeches, will also have to deal with the Jimmy Carter comparison: Is he ignorant concerning foreign policy, or too nice an evangelical guy to do the tough things that may be necessary in a tough world?

Huckabee has benefited from coverage by liberal reporters who enjoy his wit and root for an underdog. Some relish the opportunity to cause mischief among Republicans and embarrassment for major evangelical political figures who spoke of sitting out the election because none of the major candidates appealed to them-and yet one of their own is now on a roll. (Evangelicals have been stereotyped as easily led, but this year the followers are leading and the leaders are playing catch-up.)

Some journalists on the left like The New York Times' Frank Rich are also using Huckabee's optimistic rhetoric as a whip to lash other GOP candidates: Rich complains that their "main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o'clockshadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia favored by the entire G.O.P. field with the sometime exception of John McCain."

The questioning of Huckabee concerning his 15-year-old views of AIDS, though, will be followed by other examinations of his paper trail. He and his small group of staffers will also be tested immediately in their ability to create and manage the big operations needed on Feb. 5, when 22 states-including California and New York-hold their Republican primaries.

But what Huckabee has going for him is what George W. Bush has had only on rare occasions-the ability to articulate a biblical position in a way that grabs ordinary voters. For example, during a June 5 GOP debate Huckabee answered what to journalists is a "gotcha" question: Does he believe in evolution or creation?

He responded, "I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States. But you've raised the question, so let me answer it.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. To me, it's pretty simple. A person either believes that God created this process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own. . . .

"Let me be very clear: I believe there is a God. I believe there's a God who was active in the creation process.

"Now, how did He do it and when did He do it and how long did He take, I don't honestly know. And I don't think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president.

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