Rupert Cornwell: Out of America

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


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

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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions