Leader Blues

Monday, January 07, 2008

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Hillary hurt, Huck boosts McCain for nomination

Until a year ago, Mike Huckabee was an obscure governor from a small state that has a knack for producing national political figures. Despite his spotty record on crime and taxes, Huckabee overwhelmed his opponents in the Iowa caucuses and moves on as the front-runner in at least one primary state.

At this point in the nominating process, he’s done better than both Clintons, but so did Richard Gephardt, Paul Tsongas, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and plenty of other one-shot wonders.

But even if Huckabee falters in the next few weeks, he’s shown himself a capable campaigner. He’s the talk of the nation, along with Barack Obama, who this weekend is the happiest politician in America.

The two winners did better than the polls had predicted. Hillary Clinton, once a shoo-in for the Democratic presidential nomination, placed third, behind John Edwards.

Now she’ll have to fight for the nomination the way her husband did in 1992. She, too, could turn out to be the comeback kid, but don’t count on it. Now the serious contenders in both parties are down to no more than six or seven.

Huckabee savored his victory for an hour or so before flying to New Hampshire, where he could end up in third place on Tuesday. Having demolished the hapless Mitt Romney, Huckabee has improved John McCain’s chances in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

If Huckabee seemed less than elated on victory night, it was because he’d almost lost his voice by then, but that was the least of his worries: He knew that by beating Romney, he’s made McCain a more credible candidate and the almost certain winner in New Hampshire, coming in ahead of Romney and Huckabee.

If Romney loses two in a row, he could fade as fast as Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, who dropped out of the Democratic race after Thursday’s debacle. Former Sen. Fred Thompson (remember him?) will almost certainly call it quits on Tuesday.

Huckabee will likely win in South Carolina in another strong showing with evangelicals, but after Iowa and South Carolina, they’ll have a lesser impact in other Republican contests. He and Hillary will carry Arkansas on Feb.5, but his support from non-evangelicals is no better than Romney’s or Ron Paul’s.

Huckabee might soon set his sights lower, perhaps as a vice presidential candidate on a McCain ticket or as a Senate hopeful back in Arkansas — if not against Mark Pryor this year, then Blanche Lincoln in 2010.

Can he survive more scrutiny of his record from the national media?

Besides his well-known commutations and clemencies documented in this newspaper, more embarrassing revelations are likely, especially about those tainted pardons.

We still don’t know all the sordid details. A bombshell or two could explode before South Carolina. But till then, he can keep shaking hands in New Hampshire and beyond and hope for another miracle that will take him to other primary states and perhaps to the second spot on a national ticket.