2008 Meet Mike Huckabee
posted by November 16 at 12:20 PMon
Posted by Ryan S. Jackson
Trying to successfully register as press for the King County Republicans’ Fall Dinner while admitting that yes, you’re there for The Stranger, is something like approaching the desk and announcing you’re a sexual predator. In a room where one of the KVI right wing radio guys is being treated like a rock star and the tables for the silent auction gleam with almost erotic reverence for Ronald Reagan, you feel very much alone.
This wasn’t the story I was there for, however. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, newly minted by Iowa polling as tied with Mitt Romney for the lead, was making the keynote speech at the dinner and had agreed to a short press appearance, a rarity for candidates visiting this state and much-remarked-on by the assembled reporters.
The press conference was somewhat sparsely attended: myself (yes, I was able to make it in), David Postman of the Times, Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker, Neil Modie of the PI, and a blogger from Sound Politics. Some of the highlights from the press conference:
-Huckabee seemed ready for the questions about some of the big-name evangelical endorsements going to Rudy, Romney and Fred Thompson. He noted pointedly that evangelical leaders closer to Washington DC seemed the least likely to support him, and continued to repeat the phrase "I'd rather have 100,000 soldiers than one general."
-On Iraq, Huckabee got in what one would assume to be a dig at neo-conservative leadership, noting Bush "listened to a lot of guys in silk ties and suits" rather than the generals. In the on-the-ground assessment, however, Huckabee said that he's "not accepting the premise that [Iraq] is worse than it was" and noted success in counter-terrorism operations in Anbar province.
-He considers Afghanistan a much worse situation than Iraq, comparing the local infastructure to "the surface of the moon," and going on to note that he believed the country was being driven to opium production by lack of other viable options. He didn't go into specifics on how he would turn the country around.
-A President Huckabee would have no interest in a draft, but is unhappy with the amount of military spending versus the country's GDP (he considers it to be unacceptably small).
-Huckabee intends to do web videos with Chuck Norris, and actually thinks Ron Paul is a great guy.
After the conference we were ushered out into the ballroom for the festivities. The fashion sense of the GOP faithful could be described as somewhat questionable, as Russel Johnson of MoveRed.org apologized profusely to me for the elderly woman in the sheer outfit. Possibly in homage to the much-missed Reagan, most of the suits seemed to have been tailored sometime around the Gipper's second term.
Here's Johnson (right), with a blogger from Sound Politics:
At one point I shared a discussion with Doug Parris of Congressman Duncan Hunter's dark-horse campaign for president. How did the Congressman, polling at a fraction of one percent even in conservative Iowa and without any real issue to call his own, hope to become president?
The answer had something to do with chaos in the ranks of the GOP and Hugo Chavez. Behind me, another of the Hunter supporters was regaling a woman in a massive fur coat about the one-world government the French were hoping to create in Brussels.
I have to admit that at this point, I decided it was time for a martini.
The speeches began shortly after, with the crowd seeming pumped for Huckabee's appearance. A collection of county GOP functionaries led the introductions, and much backslapping ensued. Finally, the beaming Huckabee took the stage.
Mike Huckabee's stump speech, delivered in country tones of "aw-shucks, I guess I'm running for president," is something fairly incredible to witness. For the better part of forty minutes, he doesn't mention his opponents in the Republican field and only makes a single reference to the much-dreaded specter of "Islamo-fascism." He takes a pass on mentioning abortion, and the Clintons make appearances mostly as folksy anecdotes about what it took to win in Arkansas.
The seemingly dead electoral cliche Huckabee is dragging out to the stump is the American Dream, which he proceeds to give successful CPR to for almost forty minutes. Mike Huckabee's worked for everything he has. Mike Huckabee is a generation removed from dirt floors. Mike Huckabee doesn't agree with illegal immigration, but he's so glad "he lives in a country people want to break into to, not a country people want to break out of."
In a contest where the cross-dressing former mayor of New York is fighting to the death against a Massachusetts governor who used to handbill supportive messages to Boston's gay community, Huckabee has an aura of sincerity that most of the other front runners could only dream of. The Democrats probably do not want to run against this man.
Almost to prove how impressive Huckabee's speech was, the next to take to the podium was Dino Rossi. Throughout the night he had been the topic of conversation by every speaker, and was greeted with chants of chants of, "DINO!" at every mention.
Rossi's speech seemed to open a black hole in the room, sucking out all air, light, and hope. Of the roughly twenty minutes he spoke, eighteen seemed to be devoted to Christine Gregoire. If you weren't aware, Gregoire is the "governor for the government." In case anyone missed it, Rossi seemed to repeat the line ad nauseum, each time to increasingly tepid response.
Despite opening his speech by calling his campaign a "citizens movement," the entirety of his time on stage was a time machine to 1994: Big government bad! Gregoire like big government! So Gregoire bad! It would seem that if this is the strategy for firing up the troops and taking out a sitting governor, there should probably be a plan B.