Friday, December 7, 2007

Huckabee Runnin' For Comedian in Chief, Not Commander in Chief

Huckabee new in spotlight, finds it hot
By LIBBY QUAID, Associated Press Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa - Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, unaccustomed to the national spotlight, is squirming under the glare.
With his bare-bones campaign, the former Arkansas governor has been considered an also-ran until recently, when he surged to a share of the lead in Iowa GOP surveys. Now he is in second place nationally among Republicans, behind Rudy Giuliani, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll on Friday.
The added scrutiny and pressure have resulted in a series of what look like beginner's mistakes:
• Huckabee made a joke of his skimpy foreign policy experience, telling radio host Don Imus, "I may not be the expert as some people on foreign policy, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night," a play on the hotel chain's commercials.
A spokesman for rival Fred Thompson sniffed that people want a commander in chief, not a court jester.
Questioned by reporters this week, Huckabee was unaware of a report released by the White House saying Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. President Bush had held a news conference about the report, and Democrats had focused on it in a debate.
Huckabee said he'd been campaigning so hard in Iowa, he hadn't had time to read the newspaper or be briefed. And he said that probably would happen again.

He understated his role in the release of a rapist, Wayne DuMond, who murdered a woman after being paroled. Huckabee blames former Arkansas Govs. Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker for making the rapist eligible for parole.
Yet Huckabee had questioned whether DuMond was guilty, had met with DuMond's wife before and after becoming governor and had written DuMond, on the day the state parole board freed him: "Dear Wayne ... My desire is that you be released from prison."
Missteps are natural as Huckabee experiences what it's like to be a first-tier candidate, said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Iowa's Drake University.
"Even though he's been a governor of Arkansas, that's minor-league compared to the big leagues of presidential politics, and he's learning the big leagues are a lot tougher than the minor leagues," Goldford said.
"So he's genial, he's got a sense of humor, but he's running for commander in chief, not comedian in chief. People after a certain while are going to look deeper than his clever responses," he said.
Not that Huckabee should abandon his sense of humor. The former Southern Baptist preacher's corny jokes and dimpled grin have helped elevate him in Iowa, where he is tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in polls.
But the jokes aren't his only appeal with Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians who share his faith. Many of those voters have decided he is the most authentic conservative in the race. That is important because evangelical Christians carry considerable weight in the Iowa caucuses, which start the nominating process on Jan. 3.
To stay at the top level, Huckabee needs to be a quick study, learning to be more judicious with his humor. Expanding his staff and getting daily briefings on the issues of the day — as other candidates do — would seem wise.
And he needs to find concise, accurate answers to criticism. Huckabee spent more than six minutes describing the intricacies of the DuMond case when asked about it at a news conference Tuesday, and his answer implied that he opposed the rapist's release all along when he did not.
Huckabee's rivals are combing through his Arkansas record, which includes ethics complaints, tax increases and support for children of illegal immigrants, among other things.
On occasion, Huckabee has grown testy under the increased scrutiny, as when Thompson criticized his foreign policy joke. Huckabee, who is known for sometimes being thin-skinned, got personal, making cracks about Thompson being lazy and not regularly attending church.
"The most activity we've seen out of the Fred Thompson campaign are the relentless press releases coming from his campaign about me. There were six before 10 o'clock Sunday morning," Huckabee said at the news conference, where he was surrounded by pastors.
"Most of us were in church. He was cranking out press releases that morning," Huckabee said as the pastors chuckled.
And he flared when a reporter asked about schools teaching evolution rather than creationism. He insisted his belief in creationism was beside the point. "That's an irrelevant question to ask me," he admonished.
The scrutiny and missteps are similar to what Thompson, another Southerner with a sense of humor, went through earlier this year.
Visiting Florida in September as he launched his presidential bid, Thompson stirred controversy when he said he didn't know oil drilling in the Everglades was an issue and he wouldn't rule it out, and when he said he didn't remember the details of the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case.
Huckabee's surge has come primarily at the expense of Thompson, the "Law & Order" actor and former Tennessee senator.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Libby Quaid covers presidential politics for The Associated Press.

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