Leader Blues

Monday, December 17, 2007

EDITORIALS>>New adviser for Huckabee

Mike Huckabee, whose presidential campaign has relied on Arkansas staffers and a few professionals who were not prime-time players, announced yesterday that he had a big-time player in his corner. Ed Rollins, the old political pro who ran Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election campaign in 1984, will be Huckabee’s national campaign chairman.

Rollins does give the Huckabee campaign at least the appearance of gravitas, which befits the former governor’s new status as a contender for the Republican nomination.

There were skeptics who said Rollins never deserved much credit for the size of Reagan’s 1984 victory because Reagan was destined to win easily. Rollins has not had a lot of success in the intervening years. His last big candidate was Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential campaign.

Rollins was not above a few dirty tricks after the fashion of Richard Nixon. After the 1993 campaign of Christine Todd Whitman for governor of New Jersey, which he managed and she won, he boasted to Time magazine that he had secretly paid black ministers and Democratic campaign workers $500,000 the week before the election to suppress the turnout of black voters, who would be voting for Democrat Jim Florio.

He said the money was pledged to the preachers’ favorite charity if they did not encourage churchgoers to vote.

“We went into black churches and we basically said to ministers who had endorsed Florio: ‘Do you have a special project?’

And they said, ‘We’ve already endorsed Florio.’ We said, ‘That’s fine, but don’t get up on the Sunday pulpit and preach. We know you’ve endorsed him, but don’t get up there and say it’s your moral obligation that you go on Tuesday and vote for Jim Florio.’” He said it kept black turnout low and enabled Whitman to squeak into office.

If that happened, it violated federal law. There were calls for an investigation both in New Jersey and in nearby New York City, where vote suppression was suspected in Rudy Giuliani’s victory over David Dinkins, the city’s black mayor. Rollins then said his remarks were “an exaggeration that turned out to be inaccurate.”

Huckabee has made a point of appealing to black voters. He was the only Republican candidate, in fact, to accept invitations to talk to black interest groups. If Huckabee needs a surrogate with black groups this time he might not want to send Ed Rollins. Fortunately, the financially strapped Huckabee campaign won’t have $500,000 to dole out.