Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

EDITORIALS>>When second is first

Mike Huckabee’s campaign for president, which was on life support, got a shot of adrenalin Saturday — or was it morphine? He finished second behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Iowa Straw Poll, a hokey stunt by the Iowa Republican Party to raise money.

Huckabee declared that his showing — 18 percent of the roughly 14,300 people who participated — elevated him from the second to first tier of Republican candidates. The national media did reward him with some unprecedented attention, even a front-page story in The New York Times about his campaign jokes, which have been the hallmark of his campaign.

Although three of the four major contenders ducked the Iowa taffy pull altogether, Huckabee threw everything into it. Unable to raise money and stuck in the low single digits in national polls and even in Iowa, the former governor saw it as his only chance to obtain lift-off before the late-winter primaries that seem likely to settle everything. He has criss-crossed Iowa relentlessly promoting himself rather than the dour Sam Brownback of neighboring Kansas as the best choice of evangelical conservatives. He barely edged Brownback for the second spot.

Having nearly exhausted his pitiful campaign chest, the straw poll was do or die for Huckabee, and he survived. Now he must somehow realize the payoff: money. If the rich people who bankroll the candidates cannot be convinced that he is a serious contender, he will limp into the real Iowa caucus vote and the primaries with nothing to sustain him but his stale campaign humor.

He upended Brownback by less than 400 votes and that was thanks to an outfit called Fairtax.org, which has raised $5 million to tout a national sales tax during the presidential campaign. Huckabee jumped on their bandwagon early and the fair-taxers supplied the cavalry for his straw vote. It supplied buses and tickets to get sales tax supporters to the Ames campus to vote for Huckabee.

His common effort with the fair-tax fruitcakes got him into the coveted second spot in the straw poll and saved his campaign, but it will not help him in the larger campaign. The so-called Fair Tax, which has been around for nearly two decades, would replace federal income and payroll taxes with a national sales tax that would produce the same amount of federal revenues.

The fair-taxers say that would be 30 percent on every $1 purchase (or 23 percent of the final price after taxes), although tax economists say it would have to be much higher, up to 67 percent, to offset the loss of taxes in the mammoth black market that would develop. The idea of adding 67 percent, or even 30 percent, to your mortgage when you buy a new house, or to the price a new car, the doctor’s bill, a sack of groceries or the babysitter will not appeal to many voters.

The Fair Tax would send the resilient American economy into a tailspin and set up a tax-collection leviathan that would make the IRS look like a charity raffle.

Huckabee ought to be careful about embracing such silliness or it will imperil his chances of landing on the ticket with Romney or Rudy Giuliani, who will be looking for Southern balance. Stupidity is not balance. His record of progressive reform and willingness to raise taxes for good causes might be.