Can a boy born into modest circumstances in the small town of Hope, Arkansas go on to become governor of his state, and then presume to run for the Presidency?
(John P. Filo/CBS)
Yes, Bill Clinton already answered that question, but now 52-year-old Mike Huckabee, fresh from a 10-year-plus run as Arkansas governor, hopes to follow that unlikely path. He is cut from a very different cultural and political stripe: an ordained minister, a conservative pro-life Republican, he jokes about his roots by saying to Republicans: "all I ask is—give us another chance."
But in an interview in his modest suite of offices in downtown Little Rock, Huckabee acknowledges that Bill Clinton's run is something of an inspiration to a long-shot like himself.
He's already broken the 4-minute mile, the sound barrier, so it's proof positive that it can happen. And Jimmy Carter had also proven that a person can come out of total obscurity and can run for the White House.
He is probably best known -- if he's known at all -— for a personal victory, dropping some 105 pounds, and migrating from "sofa spud" to a marathon runner. But as a Presidential candidate with virtually no money (he raised only $1.3 million in the first half of 2007) and running in low single digits in the polls, Huckabee's hope for a serious Presidential run is rooted in the path that other long shots followed: the delivery of a unique, appealing message.
(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
(One possibility stems from his lack of resources. Forced to fly commercially, and in coach, he speaks of the many days stuck in airports, battling missed connections, lost baggage, weather. "The commercial airline industry is one of the first things I'd like to take on as President," he says -— a guaranteed political ten-strike if he could offer a practical plan.)
The more serious source of encouragement is history. Jimmy Carter did it in 1976, running as the "not-from-Washington" candidate in the first post-Watergate election, stressing his religious roots and his humility (carrying his own garment bag, sleeping in the home of supporters instead of in hotels). Bill Clinton did it in 1992 by challenging orthodox Democratic beliefs in areas such as crime and welfare.
And last time out, an even more obscure ex-governor -— Vermont's Howard Dean -— wound up raising more than any other Democrat with a powerful anti-war message challenging the more cautious rivals.
For Huckabee, the uniqueness of his message is the blending of conservative beliefs on abortion, school prayer, stem cell research, and same-sex marriage with notions that do not exactly sound conventional Republican themes.
"Republicans ought to be leading the way to be better stewards on the environment and we're not," he says. Republicans ought to be leading the way and speaking out against the kind of corporate greed that has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs in this country where a lot of people at the lower end are getting 40% pay cuts and some guy at the top is getting 100 million dollars to steer their company into bankruptcy. There's something just flat immoral about that. It's wrong. It's based on unbridled greed."
For now, the one question Huckabee is asked more than any other is what he has to do to survive—a decent showing in the Iowa Republican straw poll next month seems like a bare minimum.
But, he likes to note, "At this point, I've been able to obtain as many votes as any other Republican candidates. There haven't been any. My primary goal the fist several months of this campaign is to hang in and stay focused. I can only lose at this point for sure if I walk off the track."