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The Republicans' dark horse

  • 21 January 2008
Michael D. Huckabee is battered but still fighting. The former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister remains a dark horse in the race for the Republican nomination for US President. His enemies grow more numerous by the day, notably within his party, but he seems undeterred.

He has had little by way of party machinery or fundraising acumen, two things that have culled American politics of many colourful presidential candidates. Before the Iowa caucus, he wasn't given a prayer. But he stormed home in the Republican ballot, roping in not merely the evangelicals but disaffected low-income voters. A third placing in New Hampshire and Michigan, and a second placing in South Carolina won't deter him.

Senator John McCain has the pragmatic grit and Mitt Romney that political hunger that can come across as distasteful. But only Huckabee comes across as a true 'outsider' who may revitalise the Republicans. Many dislike Romney, and his Mormon background has its obvious handicaps. The obvious alternative for the evangelical Right is Huckabee. Low-income groups may well also flock to him.

Other candidates are seen as unreliable. The reckless Rudi Giuliani, with his procession of wives and interest in female attire, seems more at home at an Oxbridge college rather than the Bible Belt. The radical 'mad uncle' Ron Paul is seen as too critical about American power overseas, an isolationist in modern dress. The actor-come-politician Fred Thompson comes across as incoherent.

Encouraged by the former governor's populist sparkle, groups such as Hucksarmy.com have formed, seeking to fill the coffers and expand Huckabee's appeal across the country. Founded by Alex and Brett Harris, Portland twin teens keen on improving Huckabee's image, Hucksarmy.com has reached national stature. For the Harrises, supporting Huckabee is a religious duty, a 'rebellion against low expectations'. They have organised Christian youth conferences and have written a book due in April (Do Hard Things) that will read like a manifesto for Christian youth.

Huckabee on economics is an interesting creature. He did something that makes Republicans apoplectic: raising taxes in his state and increasing expenditure on public services. Services were, by most accounts, improved. He is also an unabashed economic populist. He suggests the introduction of a 'FairTax', one that will literally abolish the Internal Revenue Code with a consumption tax.