Columns » John Brummett

Credit where due — to a first impression

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This is another of those occasional columns giving Mike Huckabee credit where due. Its purpose is twofold:

• It is to help keep readers current on their former governor's quest for the Republican presidential nomination, which has not been nearly as chronicled and consuming here in the province as Bill Clinton's Democratic bid 15 years before.

• It is for me to get something remotely and supposedly prescient on the record in case we look up one day and Our Boy Mike is president or at least vice president. Perhaps it would compensate for the several columns saying he hadn't a prayer.

To some extent, this is a positive story. In an age when we decry the obscene dominance of money on our politics, Huckabee has shot to third in the new poll in Iowa on a budget that is but a pitiably microscopic fraction of the supposed top-tier candidates. Shoot, it's a fraction of Ron Paul's.

One reason for Huckabee's funding anemia is that he was a lame duck governor before he started running for president. That meant he couldn't emulate Clinton and leverage Arkansas special interests to seed his presidential bid with a few million dollars donated out of fear he might not become president, but remain governor.

Beyond that, Huckabee never had a particularly lucrative financial base in Arkansas. He never raised anything like the $6 million that fueled Mike Beebe last year, for example.

Arkansas Republicans don't even like him much, finding him too moderate on tax issues and entirely too tolerant of illegal immigrants.

And one gets the idea that Huckabee would rather spend his campaign time cracking wise and performing than doing the hard work of begging for bucks. That's a tad ironic, considering his ready acceptance of gifts as governor. But it still looks most days as if he's running most seriously for a cable talk show.

Huckabee is now a whisker ahead of the fading Rudy Giuliani in Iowa. He is behind only Mitt Romney, whose lack of genuineness surely will soon begin to hurt him, and Fred Thompson, who doesn't convey any interest in running, any command of the issues or any awareness that the Soviet Union broke up.

Huckabee has done this on simple talent — his speaking skill, his glib debating, his quip-crazed sense of humor, his charming of reporters and his retail political skill benefiting from the common touch that a fireman's boy from Hope probably doesn't fake.

He has some serious chutzpah. I know of no one other than Huckabee who harbored any idea he could be doing as well as he is.

Now it looks as if he'll pick up high-profile endorsements in a couple of weeks from a few leaders among conservative religious fanatics. That will boost and marginalize him at the same time.

For now, Huckabee stays busy making good first impressions.

Here's an example of how a fellow widely viewed unflatteringly in his home state can charm first-timers outside the state, and do so from the same set of facts.

At a breakfast with national political reporters months ago, Huckabee was asked about his recklessly harsh accusation against an Arkansas newspaper reporter. The reporter had incurred Huckabee's famously huffy wrath with an article about crushed office computer hard drives. Huckabee had declared the reporter guilty of transgressions comparable to such famously scandalous journalistic frauds as Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke.

Huckabee replied at this chummy breakfast with national reporters that, since boyhood, he'd been inclined to make arguments with hyperbolic metaphors such as that one, and it had properly landed him in trouble.

The national reporters walked away impressed with Huckabee's introspection, self-awareness and candor.

The slandered reporter back home didn't necessarily feel any better.

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