Leader Blues

Thursday, January 24, 2008

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Huck prays for miracle after losses

“Shucks, I’m a hick, just like you.”

—Mike Huckabee’s swan song in South Carolina.

An obvious sign that his presidential campaign is sinking and out of money, Mike Huckabee is throwing the national media off his plane and bus and will probably soon abandon Florida, placing all his bets on Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.

After winning the endorsement of his hometown paper, it’s been downhill ever since: He did not look well when he conceded to John McCain in South Carolina, but vowed to carry on in Florida and beyond, although he didn’t sound convincing. His uninspired concession speech was a sure signal that he was pulling up stakes, although Fred Thompson’s address to his supporters after his loss sounded as if he couldn’t remember why he was giving his speech. (He quit the race Tuesday.)
Huckabee could still win a couple of southern states, including Arkansas, but his evangelical base is so narrow, he can’t win anywhere but the most conservative states.

South Carolina should have gone into his column, but he blamed Thompson for losing out to McCain, who has never been the most popular candidate there, but considering the alternative, conservative voters are going with him in hopes of picking a winner in November.

Huck’s campaign is sputtering to an end as voters learn about his record in Arkansas: He governed as a liberal Republican but has moved to the right for his national campaign, switching from pro-immigration to anti-immigration, throwing in crackpot proposals for good measure, such as a national sales tax that would cost shoppers at least 30 percent, hitting middle-class families the hardest.

This was the governor who would not cut the grocery tax and instead raised taxes $500 million, yet he still presents himself as a tax cutter, when the opposite is true: Would you buy a car if you had to pay a $6,000 sales tax, on top of local and state taxes? Or furniture or computers? Who could afford them?

He has alienated small-government Republicans and independents, so a victory in the Arkansas primary isn’t certain. His friends know his presidential dreams ended in South Carolina, even if he picks up a southern state or two, but not even Chuck Norris’ martial-arts skills can lift him beyond a mediocre finish.

He’s done well for an untested and underfinanced candidate, but he’s not much of a long-distance runner. His shtick with Chuck Norris grinning broadly behind him has by now bored even their most devoted fans.

There’s still the possible consolation of a VP spot or a run for the Senate, but even those hopes may be deferred.

It wasn’t just Wayne Dumond and the record number of clemencies and commutations that tripped up Huckabee — although Mike Beebe will issue half as many of them — or Huck’s ignorance about foreign policy, but his obvious shortcomings did add up to huge negatives in the primary sweepstakes.

His inflated claims on job creation while he was governor have been exposed as fiction: Many of the gains came about because he hired thousands of bureaucrats for state jobs (see editorial in this issue).

Voters, worried about the economy and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, are looking for a more mature candidate who can help solve America’s problems in a new decade.

In the Republican primaries, who can doubt that Sen. McCain is far more qualified for the job than Huckabee?

Despite his shortcomings, Mitt Romney is right behind McCain as a credible candidate (Giuliani, like Huckabee, is looking for a graceful exit), which is why the chase for the Republican presidential nomination has become a two-man race.