Why a Mike Huckabee presidential run is Chris Christie's worst nightmare
Conservative? Check. Affable? Check. Not Chris Christie? Double check.
Mike Huckabee sat out the 2012 election, but he may be game in 2016.
The former Arkansas governor — who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses and emerged as the strongest challenger to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the race to capture the GOP nomination — ended his daily radio show Thursday and said he was considering another run at the White House.
"I'm keeping the door open," he told the New York Times. "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."
Huckabee hasn't been mentioned much in early 2016 speculation, having kept a low profile while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a trio of Tea Party senators soaked up most of the attention. But if Huckabee were to run, he could prove to be a formidable challenger to Christie, who is widely perceived to be the early front-runner.
That's because for all the hype surrounding Christie, there are still questions about whether he can play well outside the Northeast, and whether he'll pass the conservative smell test. The GOP's right wing is deeply skeptical of Christie's conservative bona fides. So though he certainly has star power and crossover appeal that would make him a strong general election candidate, he could have a tough time in a GOP primary.
Enter Mike Huckabee, who has carved out a neat little space for himself on the right as something of a GOP celebrity thanks to his eponymous Fox News show and talk radio program. (Think Sarah Palin, but with more electoral credibility.) If he got in the race, he'd have an established fan base to propel his candidacy.
Huckabee caught fire in 2008 because he was seen as a true conservative alternative in a lackluster field, and he could very well occupy the same space were he to run again. Indeed, Huckabee bragged to the Times that he could beat Christie in the early, redder nominating states for that very reason:
"Let me show you some polling," Mr. Huckabee said, brandishing a two-page memo about a survey his longtime pollster took earlier this month showing him leading the Republican field in both Iowa and South Carolina. He boasted that such good numbers came at a time when "nobody has even talked about me being named" as a candidate. [New York Times]
Huckabee hasn't been tested nearly as often as the other presumptive 2016 candidates. But a PPP poll from earlier this year found him hanging around the middle of the pack in a hypothetical horse race. Perhaps more importantly, it found that 82 percent of "very conservative" voters viewed Huckabee favorably; just 42 percent of very conservative voters said the same of Christie.
Huckabee could also be well-positioned to steal some of Christie's crossover appeal. In his mini-media tour this week, he talked about the GOP's need to reach out to new demographics — the same argument that has made Christie seem so viable in the early going.
"One of our failures is the ability to speak to African-Americans, to speak to Hispanics, to speak to working class people," he told the Washington Post, "more than just speaking to the board room, speaking to the people who go in and clean up after the meeting."
Huckabee has the popularity, name recognition, and conservative cred to be highly competitive in a GOP primary. With the GOP locked in a battle over its own identity, Huckabee's soothing, paternal populism — he's a former baptist pastor, after all — could play well to both sides.