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Backers See Huckabee Filling VP Niche

Backers See Huckabee Filling VP Niche

By Scott Conroy - May 29, 2012


If Mitt Romney's most pressing consideration in selecting a running mate is to find someone who can expand his appeal among independents or a critical demographic that remains up for grabs, several candidates would likely fit the bill better than Mike Huckabee.

But if the former Massachusetts governor instead concludes that his right flank is not as secure as it needs to be, Huckabee may be among his best options.

The winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses remains one of the most popular and well-recognized conservatives nationwide, and his decision not to launch a second presidential run removed what might have been Romney’s toughest competitor on the road to the Republican nomination.

Thus far, most GOP strategists assume that the urgency to defeat President Obama will negate any conservatives’ thoughts about staying home in November. Romney’s primary concern over the next five months, this dominant line of thinking goes, is to make headway with the narrow slice of the electorate who can be won by either candidate.

With that in mind, Huckabee backers are quick to draw attention to the former Arkansas governor’s affable demeanor, lack of pretention, and his up-from-the-bootstraps personal story, all of which might soften Romney’s image and make the GOP ticket more relatable to blue-collar independents.

But chief among the pro-Huckabee arguments made by many former aides and close confidants is that he could be an instant cure for the presumptive nominee’s lingering problems within his party’s base -- a concern that his Boston-based campaign may be underestimating.

“Romney is still weak among evangelicals and the faith-based community, and there’s probably no one else in the country who could better take that off the table than Huckabee,” said Mike Campbell, who helmed Huckabee’s 2008 campaign in South Carolina. “When you go beyond that, he’s extremely popular with the Tea Party and with the fair-tax community. These are people that Romney is going to desperately have to have that level of comfort with, and I just don’t think there’s anyone else out there who can balance off the ticket as well as [Huckabee] does.”

Through his best-selling books, paid speaking engagements, and contract with FOX News, where he hosts the most popular weekend news program on cable television, Huckabee has secured a significant influence as well as a comfortable lifestyle that was widely believed to be the reason he declined to launch a second presidential run last year.

But Campbell professed not to have any doubt that the former two-term governor would jump at an opportunity to serve at the national level, if asked to do so.

“If they receive the phone call, no one turns down the vice presidency,” Campbell said, noting the relative brevity of a vice-presidential run vs. the years-long commitment that seeking the presidency can be. “He would step up and do it, not just for Romney and the party, but for the country.”

When asked on FOX News about the possibility of becoming Romney’s running mate last month, Huckabee gave a boilerplate non-denial of interest and reverentially suggested that Marco Rubio would be a better choice for Romney.

“I haven’t gotten a call and I doubt I will, so I just merrily go about doing my business,” he said.

Former members of Huckabee’s inner political circle, however, are far less coy in making the case for him.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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