Conventional wisdom says Mike Huckabee won’t run for president in 2012. And if he does run, he won’t win the Republican nomination. Here’s why:
1. He’s not setting up the kind of organization he’d need to win the Republican nomination.
2. He’s not raising the kind of money he’d need to win the Republican nomination.
3. He’s skipping the spring 2011 Republican presidential debates.
4. He’s too busy making a lot of money and building a new estate in the Florida panhandle.
5. He’s put on a few pounds.
6. Those gubernatorial pardons and commutations.
7. He lost the Values Voters straw poll.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Gov. Huckabee sits this one out. But I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him get in the race. Here’s why:
1. He didn’t have the kind of money he needed to win the 2008 Republican nomination — and look what he accomplished. This time, he has higher name ID, higher approval ratings and better fundraising capabilities. And this time, there’s no John McCain.
2. He didn’t have the kind of organization he needed to win the 2008 Republican nomination — but he won in Iowa and across much of the South. This time, he might actually win in South Carolina. And as a brand-new Floridian, he might be able to pull an upset in the Sunshine State. (Sen. Rubio was a Huckabee supporter in 2008, you may recall….) Huckabee’s favorable ratings are really high.
3. Mitt Romney is still Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee is still Mike Huckabee. Evangelicals, on average, like Mike. A large segment of that demographic still hasn’t taken a liking to Romney. As a candidate, Huckabee not only has a shot at the GOP nomination, he can also derail Romney 2012.
4. A 2012 candidacy could, temporarily, make it harder for Huckabee to make money. But he’s more marketable, long term, if he runs in 2012. If the FOX News gig — or something like it — is available post 2012, it will be really tempting to run in 2012 because:
5. Huckabee’s doing really, really well in the polls. National polls show him neck and neck (or ahead of) Romney. All those tens of millions of dollars that Gov. Romney spent and he’s still unable to leave Mike Huckabee in the dust.
6. The campaign doesn’t get really expensive and the media attention doesn’t get really ratcheted up until you throw your hat in the ring. Mike Huckabee’s name ID isn’t going to drop between now and the summer. His positive ratings are unlikely to plummet. But potential GOP rivals are going to be loathe to run attack ads against a man who may not even be running for president. After all, it’s money down the drain — and they’ll all be lining up to get Huckabee’s endorsement if he opts out of the 2012 race.
7. Pounds, schmounds. If Huckabee could capture the “struggling with their weight” demographic, he’d win the election in a landslide. As long as he looks more like his “AFTER” picture than his “BEFORE” picture, he’ll do just fine. And anyone who makes cracks about his weight will see it backfire. Most Americans “feel his pain” and know his battle.
8. Pardons. It’s definitely a potential Achille’s heel. But Mitt Romney has an Achille’s heel of his own — it’s socialized medicine, universal health care, Romney care. A candidate with money and name ID who can attack Huckabee’s pardons and Romney’s health care plan would be well-situated. But who could that be?
9. Sarah Palin? Conventional wisdom says she’ll collapse if she gets in the GOP primary. Polls suggest Huckabee is the second choice of many Palin backers. If Huckabee can position himself as the anti-Romney, he’ll have a fighting chance. What he can’t afford is to be splitting the social conservative vote with a third candidate.
10. Mike Huckabee enjoys campaigning. I covered his campaign in Iowa, Michigan, Florida and Texas and I got the feeling he really loves being on the campaign trail. And chances are, he’ll never be better situated than he is right now to win the Republican nomination.