Mike Huckabee 2016: New wildcard in the GOP race?

Mike Huckabee, former governor, ex-pastor, and now ex-talk-show host, is looking more and more as if he'll enter the 2016 GOP presidential race. Here's what Huckabee has got going for him – and what he doesn't.

Danny Johnston/AP
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is interviewed after speaking at a meeting of the Political Animals Club in Little Rock, Ark., Oct. 25, 2013.

Mike Huckabee is talking like he wants to get the band back together and run for president in 2016.

And by “get the band back together,” we mean the bare-bones campaign staff that helped him win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and finish second to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain in the delegate count – not Capitol Offense, the Arkansas rock band for which Mr. Huckabee has occasionally played bass guitar.

“I’m keeping the door open,” Huckabee told a New York Times reporter Thursday in regards to another White House run. “I think right now the focus needs to be on 2014, but I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a real opportunity for me.”

The ex-Arkansas governor’s quasicandidacy throws a new element into the early positioning for the Republican presidential nod.

First off, he’s genial in a way that other semi-declared maybe-candidates aren’t. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can be sharp; Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas can be cutting, as an ex-debater. Huckabee, in contrast, is a smooth ex-pastor and talk-show host. Make that ex-talk-show host – he quit his daily show, heard on 200 stations, on Thursday, saying it was taking as many as nine hours a day for him to prepare.

As for his next endeavor, “Stay tuned, there’s more to come,” he told listeners on his final day.

Second, Huckabee has a deep well of support among evangelical Christians, who may not otherwise have an obvious candidate to back in 2016.

On Friday, Huckabee is speaking at a “Pastors and Pews” event in Little Rock, Ark., run by David Lane, an evangelical leader who urges followers toward more participation in the political process.

Huckabeee plans to appear at four more “Pastors and Pews” events in coming months, in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, according to a report in the Washington Examiner.

“Huckabee is obviously gearing up to run. This is the most aggressive I’ve seen him since 2007,” Mr. Lane told the Examiner’s Paul Bedard.

Third, as a former Arkansas governor, Huckabee has a geographical credential that might match up well against former Arkansan and possible Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. Huckabee was born in Hope, Ark., as was Bill Clinton, so expect the inevitable appearance of “Real Man of Hope” bumper stickers, or something like that.

Huckabee’s current residence, a large house on Florida’s Gulf Coast, admittedly might complicate this narrative.

Weighing against him is a reputation as a politician who can’t raise money, notes left-leaning pundit Ed Kilgore, in the Washington Monthly. His 2008 campaign sputtered when it basically ran out of campaign contribution fuel. If he were to run again, Mr. Kilgore notes, Huckabee might have to rely on a few deep-pocketed backers and a "super PAC," as opposed to many individual donors.

Also, he’s an economic populist in the Southern vein, and that doesn’t necessarily sit well with the antitax and the corporate wings of the Republican Party. In 2008, the antitax Club for Growth criticized him for not opposing state tax increases while serving as Arkansas governor, for instance.

Huckabee has supported the Common Core initiative for a national educational standard and has sparred with rival talk host Rush Limbaugh over the more aggressive tone of the latter’s show. That’s earned him enmity from some on the right.

“Rush-bashing, Common Core-peddling Huckabee fails at radio, readies another presidential bid. #trygolfinstead,” tweeted conservative pundit Michelle Malkin on Friday.

Of course, it’s also possible that what Huckabee really wants is not the GOP presidential nomination, but redemption.

His 2008 run ended with a thump as the money ran out, and he feels he never got credit for his populist-tinged warnings that Wall Street was going to drag down Main Street, as pretty much happened at the beginning of the Great Recession later in the year.

“A lot of things I said that I was sneered at about turned out to be prophetic,” Huckabee told the Times’ Jonathan Martin. “A year later I looked like a genius, but nobody ever said, ‘Huckabee was right.’ ”

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