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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border