January 4, 2008 in Nation/World

Huckabee runs, and wins, ‘outside’

Jason George Chicago Tribune
 
Photos by Associated Press photo

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is joined by his wife, Janet, at a victory party Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.Photos by Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Huck-a-who?

Such was the question on lips last January when Mike Huckabee announced his long-shot presidential bid. As a former governor of Arkansas with little national exposure, Huckabee was at the time best known – if known much at all – for losing 110 pounds while in office, hardly an obvious White House credential.

No longer though is Mike Huckabee known for losing, but winning – as he stands this day as the only Republican candidate with a victory under his tightened belt, besting all the supposed front-runners in Thursday night’s Iowa caucuses.

With little money and scant staff Huckabee managed what months ago seemed impossible to almost everyone, besides the candidate, a Baptist minister who says he relied on Philippians 4:13 to get to this point.

That verse: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

What Huckabee can actually do in the contests ahead remains to be seen, and how his message plays beyond the Heartland is uncertain.

Iowa Republicans, like Huckabee, are largely evangelical – nearly 40 percent of GOP caucus-goers identified themselves as conservative Christians in 2004. In most polls in New Hampshire, which holds its primary Tuesday, Huckabee rarely rises above third place.

If the past is any indication of future strategy, one need only look at Huckabee’s life to see that he has run, and won, as the outsider. At Hope High School he wasn’t an athlete or top of the class, but he was elected to the student council and spent his senior year as student body president.

Later in life, when he oversaw a mid-size Arkansas church in Texarkana – far from Little Rock leaders – he won the top spot as the head of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. That outsider stance is a position he has taken again in this presidential election, even as the polls this past month placed him at the top of the pack in Iowa.

For the first eight months of last year, it was true that Huckabee, politically speaking, was nobody. He often joked to small crowds – all he could muster – that he was so cash-poor that he “couldn’t rent their vote, much less buy it.”

The polls, as recent as August, said he was in the single digits, although Huckabee always countered that there were so many undecided voters he was actually ahead.

“I’m ‘none of the above’ ” he maintained.

Even Thursday night, in victory, he cast his win as a ‘miracle’ and a toppling of the status quo.

Huckabee’s first-place finish does not erase the fact that he remains in the middle of all the candidates on fundraising, and his organization contains almost no one familiar with competing in an election at this level.

To this day, his staff struggles to plan events, coordinate volunteers and deal with the massive media presence that now trails and dissects their every move. With each primary, the race will only get more heated and difficult to navigate.

In many ways the campaign is trying to now continue as it always has, with Huckabee at the reins, delegating and deferring to few. Despite the increased pressure, Huckabee seems determined to win the nomination as he has done in elections past: with quick wit, natural political instincts and a populist message wrapped in his Christian faith.

How well tactics from Hope High School translate into winning the White House remains to be seen.


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