Rupert Cornwell: Out of America

Born in Hope, ex-governor of Arkansas, popular for his charm and ahead in Iowa, famed for picking winners

Share

The sensation of the presidential race was born in humble circumstances in Hope, Arkansas. Helped by a gift for empathy and a smooth way with words, he went on to become a successful Governor of the state, before deciding to launch a long-shot bid for the White House. But this is 2007, not 1991. Meet Mike Huckabee, currently the most fascinating candidate in either party.

Huckabee is no Bill Clinton redux. For one thing, he is a Republican. Both men were raised as southern Baptists, but Huckabee was a pastor for many years and then president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention positions of moral and churchly leadership the wayward Bill could never aspire to. Both have had weight problems, thanks to a weakness for junk food. But unlike Huckabee, Clinton never had to lose 110lbs, almost eight stone, in a single year, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

What matters now, however, is not this astounding feat of dieting and self-discipline. It is that Huckabee, no less astoundingly, has a good chance of winning the Iowa caucuses that kick off the primary season in 32 days. One poll last week gave him a narrow lead over the previous favourite, Mitt Romney, while another showed the pair in a statistical dead heat. And if Huckabee does win on 3 January, the contest for the 2008 Republican nomination will be turned on its head.

How did it come to this? Mainly because all his better-known rivals have defects. Mix Romney's money and managerial acumen, John McCain's honesty and military record, Fred Thompson's southern charm and Rudolph Giuliani's toughness and you'd have an Identikit candidate to bowl over every Republican in the land. On the other hand, if you blend Romney's Mormonism, McCain's age and support of the Iraq war, Thompson's plodding indolence, and the liberal social views and messy private life of Giuliani, you'd come up with a candidate who might not win a single vote from Christian conservatives, so important a part of the Republican primary electorate.

Enter Minister Mike. But there is much more to it than that. True, Huckabee is a perfect fit for social conservatives. But he proclaims his faith with a beguiling deftness, humour and sincerity. Take last week's televised Republican debate in Florida, questions courtesy of YouTube. Giuliani and Romney plainly can't stand each other, and from the opening bell they went for it. Great TV, of course, but damaging to both of them. McCain's coolness and Thompson's amiability made a pleasant contrast.

The real beneficiary, however was Huckabee, who followed Ronald Reagan's famous 11th commandment to his party, "Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans". Where they outbid each other in their denunciation of illegal immigrants, Huckabee defended his policy, as Governor, of allowing the children of such immigrants to receive the same education as anyone else: to penalise them for the sins of their parents was "unAmerican". He also earned the biggest laugh in response to a question whether Jesus would have approved of the death penalty. Huckabee, who as Governor allowed more than a dozen executions, answered: "Jesus was too smart ever to run for public office."

Above all, he seems to be himself. In modern US politics, "authenticity" is all. But how long and how far will the Huckabee bandwagon roll? Since 1996, Iowa has unfailingly predicted each party's ultimate nominee. But in most national polls he comes no higher than fourth, behind not only Giuliani, but McCain and Romney as well. Thus far, moreover, he's had a free ride. Now his rivals are starting to attack him not least for that supreme Republican sin of raising taxes, when he ran Arkansas.

But American politics have rarely been more volatile. And even if he doesn't win, Huckabee is already being touted as a vice-presidential running mate for either McCain or Giuliani, to make up for any "God deficit" on the ticket. One way and another, this is Mike Huckabee's moment.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Change Manager - London - EMEA & CIS projects

£56500 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

Ashdown Group: Regional HR Advisor / HR Business Partner - Oxfordshire

£30000 per annum + contributory pension: Ashdown Group: An established Not for...

Ashdown Group: Tester / Test Engineer - Cheshire - Growing Industry Leader

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Ashdown Group: Data Migration Specialist / Architect - SQL Server / SSIS - gro

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
August 1923: Immigrants in a dining hall on Ellis Island, New York.  

When will the Church speak up for the dispossessed, and those that our political system leaves behind?

Stefano Hatfield
Mexico president Enrique Peña Nieto  

The UK is rolling out the red carpet for President Peña Nieto, but his security forces have blood on their hands

Kate Allen
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003