Conventional wisdom suggests Sen. John McCain will not pick former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to be his running mate this summer. Doing so will really tick off two vocal, powerful groups of Republicans: the elite Manhattan / Wall Street crowd, and the conservative punditocracy (led by talk radio and publications like National Review ).
Huckabee was unfairly branded (I speculate by rival Gov. Mitt Romney's operatives in the conservative media ) as proillegal immigration and pro-tax, earning him the ire of flaming pens and talking heads from George Will to Ann Coulter.
As a Huckabee fan, I admit that I would love to see the former Baptist minister on the ticket, but had resigned myself to conventional wisdom, knowing that McCain needs to find a universally liked VP candidate to unite the GOP in November. However, after seeing Huckabee and McCain campaign together and after looking at Huckabee's continued support in the primaries, the conventional wisdom.
Reason No. 1 why McCain will pick Mike: Huckabee pulls evangelicals back into the GOP fold. I estimate that evangelical voters could represent about 30 percent of the Republican rank and file. George W. Bush wouldn't have become president if these people (myself included ) didn't come out to vote - just ask Karl Rove.
This is a real problem for McCain, who has little inherent appeal to evangelical Christians. McCain's faith is personal at best, and perhaps even nonexistent. I have seen some evangelical Christians gravitate to Sen. Barack Obama. This interesting phenomenon is easily explained. Obama right now has the mantle of "compassion," something with serious appeal to benevolent Christians, who sometimes believe government should fill in where the church has failed. President Bush's "compassionate conservatism"coupled with his acknowledgment of Jesus' influence in his life won over evangelicals - and the White House.
Although the Rev. Jeremiah Wright fiasco has slowed Obama down, his strategy of playing up his faith and appearing compassionate has some evangelicals, particularly those who have never liked McCain, thinking about voting for the Democrat. Huckabee as VP brings these evangelicals back into the fold.
Huckabee's evangelical appeal is important because it's not particularly regional. Although evangelical voters are concentrated in the South, they have some strength in every state in the Union. McCain will have no trouble bringing the moderate Republicans and Hawks to vote. The evangelicals Huckabee might bring could represent as much as a five point boost in many critical states.
Proof of Huckabee's appeal to core evangelicals showed up in Tuesday's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana. A withdrawn Huckabee came in second in both states, picking up 12 and 10 percent of the vote, respectively. These voters are evangelical Christians who are sending a message to McCain: Pick our guy, and we'll come out for you.
Reason No. 2 why McCain picks Mike: Huckabee also solidifies the South for McCain. No GOP calculus sends Republicans to Pennsylvania Avenue without southern dominance. With Huckabee on the ticket, McCain can take the fight to the blue states instead of having to worry about defending GOP strongholds. In many ways, Huckabee can hold down the Southern red state fort while McCain forces Obama to spend resources in states like California, where moderate Republicans like McCain have appeal.
Reason No. 3 why McCain picks Mike: Because McCain is truly a maverick. McCain obviously likes Huckabee, enjoys campaigning with him, and they both respect each other. Meanwhile, now that McCain is the nominee, McCain and the conservative pundit class can just barely hold their noses and tolerate each other. Why should McCain try to appease this group ? They did everything they could to deny McCain the nomination, and failed.
While riding a campaign bus in Little Rock, McCain told the gathered press that Huckabee energizes people. I think Huckabee energizes McCain, and the senator is going to decide that he's going to want to keep that charge around when facing Obama this fall.