Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came to a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters Thursday morning still reveling in the political lift from a better-than-expected showing in last weekend's Iowa straw poll.
"There is a new life in our campaign" as a result of coming in second in the Iowa contest among Republican presidential candidates, Mr. Huckabee said. The two-term former governor won 18.1 percent of the votes last Saturday versus front-runner Mitt Romney's 31.6 percent.
As a result of the strong Iowa showing, Huckabee said his team had scheduled 16 new fundraisers. "We had 1,000 new contributions, new donors to our website, from Saturday night to Tuesday morning. So clearly there is some momentum," he said.
But pundits and political writers are questioning how long the momentum will last. "I predict a year from now Huckabee will be a footnote of a footnote," said conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer on Fox News.
And an Associated Press analysis Thursday argued that "the traits that helped Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee race to a second-place finish in last week's Iowa straw poll might be more of a drag with voters in New Hampshire." The piece noted that many Republicans in New England are economic conservatives and social liberals.
Huckabee, who is a staunch social conservative and approved tax increases during his term as governor, said that when he read the AP story Thursday morning, "It caused me to get a third cup of coffee."
He professed optimism about his chances in New Hampshire with its key first-in-the-nation primary. "We have a great team on the ground there. I feel like frankly that we have as good if not better a chance to do well in New Hampshire as we did in Iowa…. The point [critics] were saying was that was my appeal is limited to values voters, religious voters. I don't think so."
Before entering politics, Huckabee was a Baptist pastor, having attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He later served as president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
While both he and former Massachusetts Governor Romney have played influential roles in their respective denominations, Huckabee downplayed the possibility that voters might be concerned their religious views would intrude on government.
"I don't think people in America are that prejudiced or biased against people of faith," Huckabee said. "What they expect is that if you express a faith that they can trace it down to your roots and that they can also see it in your actions. The only thing people in America truly have a problem with is hypocrisy or phoniness."
The mood among the evangelical community is different than in previous national elections, Huckabee said. "There are a lot of issues people still care a lot about … but I don't think we are as clearly polarized, for example in the community of faith, as we once were where it is all about one or two issues. In fact, I think there has been somewhat of a maturing process among particularly Evangelicals."
Huckabee described the change as "a new sense that if you really are going to say I am applying my faith to the world in which I live, that has to include concerns about the environment, it has to include concerns about poverty and hunger; it can't just be about abortion and same sex marriage. It is not that there is sort of a softening or a weakening on the convictions regarding those issues. But that is not enough."
The proper role of the federal government is one area where Huckabee said he disagrees with the Bush White House. "I tend to see things from a governor's perspective – that states should maintain a great deal more authority and the federal government a lot less. I am truly a Jeffersonian when it comes to that. And I think, if anything, this administration has troubled me most in that it is more Hamiltonian than it is Jeffersonian."
During his 10 years as governor, "My conflicts often with the White House were over the basis of 10th Amendment issues." That amendment provides that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, belong to the states. "Jefferson was, in fact, right that the ideal is strong states and a relatively weak centralized federal government, not the other way around," Huckabee added.
Pressed for areas where the federal government has encroached on the states, Huckabee said he was concerned about efforts to have a federal identification card or a national health program that did not offer "freedom for innovation" from the states. He also said overuse of the National Guard by the federal government "is problematic."
One way Huckabee tries to differentiate himself from the eight other announced or unannounced Republican presidential candidates is by calling himself a Main Street Republican as opposed to what he terms a Wall Street Republican. And he talks about the lasting impact of growing up in modest circumstances.
"I have shopped the aisles of Wal-Mart. I have lived that life. If you grew up in a household, as I did, where you are told to eat everything on your plate because you are really not sure there will be a plateful tomorrow, if you truly understand what it means to scratch it out to get an education because you see in your own family what the lack of an education means…. And there is no trust fund, no savings account to fall back on … you have just a different perspective about life than if there is really no sense that you can fall and get hurt."
After starting the day in Washington with a roomful of print reporters, the candidate was slated to travel to a much funnier place, the New York City studios of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." "For those of you who are religious, please pray for me," Huckabee said about appearing on the program. Stephen Colbert's wildly popular program features interviews where the guest usually comes out second best.