Huckabee Joins Race With Tacit Contrast to Clintons

Huckabee Joins Race With Tacit Contrast to Clintons
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HOPE, Ark. — Mike Huckabee used his metaphor-rich hometown on Tuesday as a backdrop to launch his second bid for president — the setting drawing contrasts at once with former President Bill Clinton, who also hails from Hope, and President Obama, who ran for office on a platform of “hope” and “change”

“We were promised hope, but it was just talk,” said Huckabee, a former Republican governor of Arkansas. “Now we need the kind of change that really can bring America from Hope to higher ground.”

In a community college auditorium, Huckabee recalled his upbringing in the town that’s now home to roughly 10,000 people, where he said he “was raised to believe that where a person started didn’t mean that’s where he had to stop,” and where he ran in his first race, for student council in junior high school.

“So it seems fitting that it would be here that I announce I am a candidate for president,” Huckabee said to cheers from an enthusiastic, conservative crowd of roughly 2,500, including those in overflow areas. At intervals, supporters chanted, “We like Mike” and waved signs supplied by the campaign.

Huckabee, who proved a surprisingly strong candidate when he ran for president in 2008, still commands a substantial following among religious and social conservatives, having since then cultivated a national audience with a weekly show on Fox News and as a prolific author.

But Huckabee has expressed frustration at the idea that he only appealed in 2008 to evangelical voters — a “misconception,” he told reporters in Washington last month. On Tuesday, he began in earnest to flirt with working-class voters, using his personal story to shape a narrative of social and economic mobility.

“I grew up blue collar, not blue blood,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee’s strategy has changed in other ways, too. Whereas he announced his previous bid for president during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” his campaign launch on Tuesday was decidedly less low-key, mimicking the flow of a party convention with multiple introductory speakers, including wife Janet Huckabee, and campaign videos. The program kicked off with a musical performance by the candidate’s friend Tony Orlando, the ’70s singer of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” fame.  

 

Still, Huckabee is no frontrunner. He starts the race in sixth place among Republicans, the RealClearPolitics national polling average shows. Huckabee on Tuesday took pains to acknowledge, and even embrace, his standing as an underdog.

“I never have been and never will be the favorite candidate of the Washington-to-Wall Street corridor of power,” he said. He added, striking an implicit contrast to the Bill and Hillary Clinton, that he does not have a “global foundation” to advance his name or offer financial security.

Huckabee scarcely needed to allude to the Clintons — and not once did he explicitly invoke Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee — because the setting so obviously called the power couple to mind.

“I still believe in a place called Hope,” Bill Clinton famously said as he accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 1992. Today, the town is something of a shrine to its most famous son.

Huckabee’s own political arc has been inextricably linked to the Clintons. An introduction video Tuesday noted that he took office in “Bill Clinton’s Arkansas,” when Democrats controlled both chambers of the state legislature.

Today, both sons of Hope have cut their immediate ties to the Natural State. The Clintons reside in New York; Huckabee’s primary residence is a beachfront home in Florida.

Still, the hometown crowd came out strong for Huckabee on Tuesday, including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who led the state party in the 1990s when Huckabee first won statewide office as lieutenant governor.

Huckabee “led our state with conviction. He led our state with conservative values,” Hutchinson said in his remarks. “That is the type of leadership that we need on the national stage.”

The surest early sign that Huckabee would run for president came in January, when he abruptly quit his Fox News show — a move that he and aides insisted he would not have made if he weren’t serious about waging another campaign.

Since then, he has gradually laid the groundwork for a bid: publishing a new memoir, traveling to key presidential primary states and, last month, quietly forming an exploratory committee.

Huckabee will hope to build on his success in 2008, when he defeated Mitt Romney to win the Iowa caucuses.

“I have no presumptions that I’m a lock to win [Iowa] or that I go into it with this unbreakable position in favor,” Huckabee said last month. “But we have a good structure, a good organization, good contacts, a good network there, a good message there. And I do know how to win Iowa.”

Early polling shows him in a competitive position in some of the pivotal states. The RCP average shows Huckabee in fourth among Republicans in Iowa and in South Carolina, with a solid 9 percent in each key primary state.

Huckabee’s campaign team is also hopeful that he will perform well in the so-called “SEC primary” of Southern states on March 1, which will include Arkansas.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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