ABC The Drum
He comes from the same small town as Bill Clinton and will try to convince Republicans that he knows how to beat the Clinton machine — so can Mike Huckabee really be the next US president?
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has become the latest candidate to officially enter the race to become the 45th president of the United States, announcing he is in the running for the nomination of the Republican Party in 2016.
The 59-year-old is aiming to become the second president to be born in the small town of Hope, Arkansas (population 10,095), following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton — just as he did when he became governor of the southern state in 1996.
Although their politics could hardly be more different, and there is certainly no love lost between them, Mike Huckabee has more than a birthplace in common with Bill Clinton. Both have a folksy ease with regular people, making them natural campaigners, and they are both at times captivating speakers.
Yet while Clinton has struggled to temper his appetites with fast food and fast women, Huckabee has only battled the bulge (publically at least) — he even authored a diet book.
When he ran for president the first time in 2008, Huckabee won over a key constituency of the Republican Party — "born again" evangelical Christians, who form an important part of the conservative electorate in crucial early states like Iowa and South Carolina. Huckabee was outspent more than 10 to 1 in Iowa by Mitt Romney, but won a stunning victory in the presidential caucuses — it was a setback Romney didn't recover from.
Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister and he understands the power of the pulpit and of television. One of his first jobs after dropping out of seminary school (at the first attempt) was working for a televangelist named James Robison, and Huckabee has spent much of the past seven years since his last presidential run as a talk show host on Fox News.
He may come across as a cow-eyed Gomer Pyle sound-alike, but for all his "gosh" and "golly" hominess, since the start of his political career Huckabee has taken positions guided by a very literal and conservative interpretation of the bible. In 1992, standing unsuccessfully for the US Senate against incumbent Democrat Dale Bumpers, Huckabee advocated isolating people with AIDS from the general public, and described homosexuality as "aberrant, unnatural and sinful".
During that campaign and since Huckabee has railed against the "moral decay" of America — for a long time he has been happy to point to his gubernatorial predecessor Clinton as an example of that decline in family values.
One of Huckabee's key selling points to Republicans will be that he knows how to beat the Clintons — not that he ever did it, mind you. Bill and Hillary were in the White House by the time Huckabee first stood for office in Arkansas — but Huckabee will claim he beat the Democratic Party machine built by the Clintons.
Until he quit his popular weekly program on Fox News this January, Huckabee used that platform to hammer Hillary Clinton over her handling of the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. He has since continued to question the ethics and honesty of the former secretary of state over her deletion of emails from her private account.
But to have the chance to take on the Clintons directly for the first time, Huckabee will have to overcome some stiff opposition within the ranks of the GOP. His campaign will have to manage the expectation that he will again win Iowa's caucuses — anything less will be considered a major failure — but he won't have an easy run. As-yet undeclared Republican presidential candidate, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, spent some time growing up in the mid-western state as the son of a Baptist minister, and has jumped to the top of the early polls there.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has the kind of wholesome charisma that will play well in places like West Des Moines and Ames, has also piqued some interest. And then there's Rick Santorum, the sweater vest–wearing former senator from Pennsylvania who won a razor-thin victory in Iowa in 2012 and is giving every sign of launching a second White House bid later this year.
So while Huckabee starts his 2016 campaign better known and better financed than eight years ago, realistically his chances are probably worse. The polls out of Iowa in the next few months, and the head-to-head matchups with Hillary Clinton, will decide whether another likable "boy from Hope" makes it to the White House.
This article was originally published at ABC The Drum