Huckabee rocks the GOP candidate image
Where aw-shucks meets off-kilter: A 50-something preacher-turned-presidential-contender can be cool.
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Watching Huckabee cycle between social conservative and freewheeling rock 'n' roller makes for some jarring juxtapositions. One night he was in suit and tie talking Social Security with seniors in Sioux City. The next morning he was playing bass in bluejeans with the school band here.Skip to next paragraph
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"There's a great way to live life," he said delivering an antidrug message after the jam session, "and that's keep your mind free and clear." But then in another zigzag, he segued into a meditation on 1970s rock when a junior, Jacob Polkinghorn, asked about illegal immigration.
"My views on illegal immigration? By the way, I like your shirt," Huckabee interrupted himself, gesturing at Jacob's T-shirt, with the rainbow-prism cover art from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album.
Jacob grinned broadly.
"Favorite Pink Floyd song?" Huckabee quizzed him. "Mother," Jacob replied, naming a track from the 1979 album "The Wall," a rock opera linked in popular lore with the hallucinogenic drug culture.
Around the time "The Wall" was released, Huckabee explained later in a phone interview, "I was working for a Christian evangelical organization in Texas doing communications."
"I was never a druggie," he added. "I'm probably one of the few people my age that's never even tasted beer."
Those details didn't come up at the high school. Instead, he told Jacob, "When I saw your shirt, I just had to tell you ... it really excites me that guys who are students now love the music that I listened to."
Like your favorite uncle, Huckabee can at times seem to be trying too hard.
The big show was later that October night, across the state, at the Surf Ballroom, in Clear Lake. The venue is a pop landmark: The last place Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) played before their plane crashed in 1959. Posters on the doors beckoned Iowans to Huckabee's "2007–2008 Road to the White House Tour."
October had been a good month. His campaign had raised $800,000 in the first three weeks. And though still in fifth place in most national polls of GOP voters, in Iowa he'd inched into a tie for second. (Now in late November, he is a solid second – even tied for first in some polls.)
"Are you guys ready to have a little fun tonight?" Huckabee roared to a crowd of 400 as his band swept on stage. "We want to show that conservatives, Republicans, Christian believers can have as much fun as anybody else in the whole world."
Capitol Offense, which doesn't play original music, launched into a set of classic rock covers, the sort in any roadhouse jukebox: "Born to be Wild," "Mustang Sally," "Wonderful Tonight." Huckabee doesn't sing. But he bobbed to the beat, his shimmering electric bass slung from an American-flag strap.
At a table behind the dance floor with his wife and toddler daughter, Justin Herrick said he'd always liked Huckabee's opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But when he read that the candidate had a band, his reaction was, "Wow." So he and his wife drove two hours from Wartburg College, a Lutheran school they attend.
"Usually most ministers would be against the rock 'n' roll thing, but here he is playing it," said Mr. Herrick. "It shows what he's really like on the weekends."
Hanging back in the shadows and scrutinizing Huckabee's technique was Randy Hudson, a bassist in a band he described as "a gospel Hootie & the Blowfish meets Billy Joel."
"At first I thought, 'Is this a gimmick?' " said Mr. Hudson, a college student and former cable-TV installer. But after hearing Huckabee play, Hudson decided otherwise. "By not looking like a politician, you run the risk of people not seeing you as a politician. But he's betting on the fact that people are sick of politicians."
Turning to watch the former governor, Hudson smiled. "He's kind of like Bruce Springsteen running for president, except a nicer guy."