- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mike Huckabee can’t definitively explain why he couldn’t win the Republican presidential nomination, but he thinks the desire of Christian leaders to be “kingmakers,” media coverage and Mother Nature all had something to do with it.

“Rank-and-file evangelicals supported me strongly, but a lot of the leadership did not,” the former Arkansas governor says. “Let’s face it, if you’re not going to be king, the next best thing is to be the kingmaker. And if the person gets there without you, you become less relevant.”

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson backed Rudolph W. Giuliani; American Value President and former presidential hopeful Gary Bauer endorsed Sen. John McCain; and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins remained neutral, even as Mr. Huckabee was wowing their supporters and winning the values voter straw polls they organized.

Mr. Huckabee said his foreign-policy views were misunderstood by evangelical leaders whocriticized him for not comprehending the direness of the “Islamo-fascist” threat.

Their criticism and even antagonism still leave him bemused, and he said it was “like playing the Whack-a-Mole pizza-parlor game” in trying to shoot down their objections.

“I was the one person who talked about this being a theological war, not just a geopolitical war [because] it was unlike a traditional war over borders and boundaries,” he says.

Mr. Bauer says Mr. Huckabee “ran an honorable campaign, but in spite of his successes I saw no evidence that he could bring together the three main parts of the Reagan electoral constituency — defense, economic and social conservatives.

“If he asked my advice, it would be to try to do that in the months and years ahead,” he said.

Mr. Perkins said his organization tries to influence the public policy debate and has never endorsed a presidential nomination candidate in its 25 year history.

At the same time, Mr. Huckabee says, the press undermined his prospects by too often mentioning he was a Baptist minister before he was an elected official.

“The qualification for me being president is not that I was a pastor 20 years ago [but] that I effectively governed a state, running a microcosm of the federal government,” Mr. Huckabee said in an interview with The Washington Times.

And the same news outlets that gave him so much positive attention ended up saying he couldn’t win — creating “a self-fulfilling prophecy” that helped sap donations and turnout.

Mr. Huckabee takes solace in what his campaign accomplished: Winning the first-in-the nation Iowa caucuses and seven other states, and being the last to exit the race when Mr. McCain became the party’s presumptive nominee.

It showed “that a person of humble background and ordinary means can run for the presidency of the United States and get close enough to scare people to death,” he said.

“We never raised the money that competitors had,” Mr. Huckabee. “I think what’s remarkable is that we got as far as we did.”

Mr. Huckabee took in about $13 million compared to Mr. McCain’s nearly $55 million and Rep. Ron Paul managed to raise nearly $33 million.

“You know, we were the little bitty college that made the Final Four, that nobody thought would be there,” he said.

The former governor says he could have made a longer run if not for the winner-take-all setup that allowed Mr. McCain to clamp down the nomination by winning New York, California, New Jersey and Connecticut that won’t help a Republican win the presidency in November.

“I swept most of the Southern states on Super-Duper Tuesday,” he says. “Who’s going to tip the scale for a Republican? It’s going to be the Southern states like Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kansas,” all of which he won.

God or Mother Nature intervened in Missouri — and on the wrong side. He says he would have won Missouri, too, but for tornados that on election eve hit his voter strongholds Springfield, Joplin and Branson in the southwest of the state.

The “turning point” for Mr. Huckabee was his loss of the Jan. 19 South Carolina primary to Mr. McCain and being portrayed by some economic conservatives as unreliable on taxes and spending in Arkansas.

He credits the Club for Growth ads, which he says were paid for by Mitt Romney donors, for damaging him with conservative voters in South Carolina.

“It was very frustrating to be presented as an economic liberal, because I have a very different record, as an economic conservative,” Mr. Huckabee says.

“Had Fred Thompson not been in the race, we would have won South Carolina by ten points,” says Mr. Huckabee. “His and Romney’s presence split the conservative vote three ways, and we barely squeaked under McCain, you know, and it’s just the way it is. That’s not sour grapes. It’s just life.”

For Mr. Huckabee, there’s still an opening for running mate on the McCain ticket despite lingering questions about his stances on the war and free trade and his commitment to cracking down on illegal immigration.

“I have a fairly broad appeal,” he says. “I certainly have a strong core constituency with the conservatives in this party … the ones who knock on doors and make the calls pro-life, pro-family, strong traditional-value conservatives.”

He thinks he “also touched a nerve with a whole lot of people who are nowhere near that, people who either support me because of the Fair Tax or because I really did bring some different ideas to the issues of health care and education.”

He says he was the only Republican candidate “to say that the economy was in trouble” when the others “quoted the Republican National Committee’s talking points, saying the economy’s great.”

Like Mr. McCain, Mr. Huckabee takes pride in not repeating what he calls “the company line.”

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