Numbers that point Mike toward the White House
By Lucas Roebuck
In 2005, I wrote Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had a 30 percent chance of wining the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. At the time, I took good-humored flack from my Arkansas press colleagues, who didn’t think our thinning governor fit the White House. After Huckabee’s “surprise” second place showing in the Ames, Iowa GOP straw poll this weekend, I am going to revise my probability figures.
The man from Hope now has nearly even odds of winning the GOP nomination.
Holding Huckabee down so far has been his lack of media credibility — the press needed to believe he had some chance of winning. But now mainstream outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and New York Times (and key conservative publications like National Review) are giving Huckabee a more serious look. Previously, the media had ordained only Sen. John McCain, Gov. Mitt Romney and Mayor Rudy Giuliani (and un-announced actor Fred Thompson) as the “top-tier” candidates.
The top-tier is about to be reshuffled. My guesses: McCain will increasingly become a non-candidate, as his campaign runs out of money and his numbers sink in further in the semi-meaningless national polls. Sen. Fred Thompson’s has burnt all his goodwill as a non-candidate, and if he doesn’t announce soon, someone else will take his seat on the front-runner’s bus.
Assuming actor Thompson’s flirting is just that, going into the early primaries next year, look for Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani to be the real GOP contenders in 2008. Giuliani will appeal to the center-left of the Republican party, Huckabee will appeal to the larger center-right base, and Romney will continue his flip-flopping ways to unsuccessfully appeal to the whole spectrum.
Here’s a scenario that could propel Huckabee, who I support, to the nomination.
Jan. 14: Huckabee wins Iowa Caucus
With McCain and Giuliani sitting the Iowa straw poll out, Romney should have mopped up the floor, hitting the 45-50 percent range. Not including TV ads ($2 million), Romney spent $1 million on Iowa straw poll related expenses — staff, busses, big tents, etc., according to the Washington Post. Huckabee spent $150,000.
The numbers suggest Romney won’t lock up more than 30 percent of Iowa GOP voters. Consider Saturday’s straw poll: Romney, 31 percent; Huckabee 18.1 percent; Sen. Sam Brownback, 15.3 percent; Rep. Tom Tancredo, 13 percent; Rep. Ron Paul, 9.1 percent; Gov. Tommy Thompson, 7.3 percent; finally Fred Thompson, Giuliani, Rep. Duncan Hunter, McCain and Republican activist John Cox all showed up with less than two percent.
Brownback’s and Huckabee’s supporters are cut out of the same ideological cloth — most are part of the pro-life voting bloc that are leery of a Mormon who has switched positions on abortion. Add their numbers together, and they easily eclipse Romney’s 31 percent. Huckabee is also the most likely pickup of drop-out Gov. Thompson’s supporters.
How will McCain and Giuliani do in Iowa? McCain barely won five percent when he ran in 2000. He’s much less formidable now. Giuliani’s only Iowa hope is that Romney and Huckabee split the conservatives that dominate the GOP primary, and there is enough left over for him to be in first place. But his absence from the straw poll shows there is no great love for the mayor. The Iowa momentum is for Huckabee, who obviously connects with GOP voters there.
Jan. 19: Huckabee wins the South Carolina Caucus, loses the Nevada Caucus
Huckabee was made to win the South Carolina caucus, and his southern connections will carry the day over the Yankee candidates.
South Carolina former Republican Gov. David Beasley told the Wall Street Journal this weekend, “I really believe now that the conservative voters will begin to coalesce behind Mike Huckabee...and it’s going to be infectious in New Hampshire and South Carolina.”
Huckabee probably won’t play big in Nevada. If McCain is still in the race, Nevada (which neighbors his home state of Arizona) will be a must win.
Jan. 22: Huckabee places second in New Hampshire
I suspect New Hampshire is the beginning of the end for Romney. McCain easily beat Gov. George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000. McCain (if he still is in) and Giuliani will suck up the independent, maverick-minded New Hampshire voters away from Romney. Huckabee will pick up the smaller, social conservative bloc — the same people who voted for Bush in 2000 (31 percent).
Jan. 29: Huckabee wins Florida
At this point, the race will likely be between Huckabee and Giuliani. If Huckabee successfully motivates the huge base of social conservatives in the GOP, he wins Florida.
Giuliani’s main message will be that he is more electable in the general election and stronger on national defense than Huckabee. Huckabee’s strongest message will be that he represents the values of rank-and-file Republicans better than Giuliani.
The remainder of the primary contest will show just how strong the social conservative base of the GOP is.
Lucas Roebuck is the former managing editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times and Siloam Springs (Ark.) Herald-Leader. He is currently a journalism professor for Northwest Nazarene University.