- - Sunday, December 15, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Suddenly, out of nowhere, everyone’s talking about Mike Huckabee making a repeat run for the White House.

Well, not everyone. Mostly, it’s Mike Huckabee talking about Mike Huckabee.

“I’m keeping the door open,” Mr. Huckabee told The New York Times. “I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a real opportunity for me.”

ABC News got the headline right when it wrote: “Mike Huckabee Talks 2016, But Is Anyone Listening?”

It is, of course, three years until Election Day 2016. That’s more than 1,000 days. And it’s worth remembering that three years before the 2008 election, New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was the Republican front-runner (and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton an absolute shoo-in for the Democratic nomination).

But the chattering class needs something to chatter about, so last week, it was Mr. Huckabee.

Here’s the thing: Mr. Huckabee is loving life. He just bailed on his radio show (some saw the move as a sign that he’s running; but he said the daily grind was just too much). At 58, he’s old enough to be comfortable financially and young enough to enjoy the freedom that comes with that. He’s got grown kids and now grandkids — who wouldn’t want to just kick back and hang out with the young-uns?

You think Sarah Palin is going to leave her luxurious estate in Scottsdale, Ariz., to make a run for the White House. Not likely.

Still, there might be just a nub of truth behind the chatter on Mr. Huckabee. He is, at least, a seasoned veteran who knows how to run. He won six states during the 2008 primaries, including an opening victory in the crucial state of Iowa, and that on a shoestring budget. 2016 could well be very different.

Also, he’s not overcome with ambition. Unlike other unsuccessful 2008 candidates, Mr. Huckabee laid low in 2012. Instead, he cashed in on his higher profile, embarking on a lucrative speaking tour and holding court each week on a Fox News weekend TV show.

The mood in America may be changing in his favor as well. In 2008, Americans simply wanted change. In 2012, they didn’t much like President Obama, but they sure didn’t like the other guy. Yet five years in, the economy is still a mess, the entitlement programs clearly out of hand.

Along with the emergence of the tea party, a new wave of conservatives are gearing up for 2016, such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. That could open up some territory for Mr. Huckabee, who would position himself more like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a moderate who’s not exactly GOP establishment. And he at least sees the GOP needs to embiggen its tent.

“I really believe the key to a Republican victory is an ability to communicate a message that speaks across a broader spectrum,” he said to The Washington Post. “I think that one of our failures is the ability to speak to African Americans, to speak to people who are Hispanic, to speak to working-class people — more than just speaking to the boardroom, speaking to the people who go in and clean up after the meeting.”

He also took aim at conservative groups. “My hope and prayer is that more mainstream Republicans would push back hard against the groups like Club for Growth and FreedomWorks and even Heritage Action,” he said in an October speech.

Three years out, a couple of polls say Mr. Huckabee is in play. A survey by Gravis Marketing put him in the lead in South Carolina at 18 percent, leading Jeb Bush (17 percent), Chris Christie (14 percent) and Ted Cruz (13 percent) — although “undecided” came in second at 16 percent. A poll by the Wickers Group put Mr. Huckabee in the lead in Iowa at 21 percent, ahead of Mr. Christie and Mr. Cruz, tied at 14 percent.

Dave Catanese, mastermind of TheRun2016.com, took the opposite view of ABC News, headlining his piece, “Huckaboom.”

“Missouri GOP chairman Ed Martin says he thinks Huckabee is ‘definitely considering it,’” Mr. Catanese wrote. “‘There are some pastors from South Carolina and Iowa coming to tell him to run. And Missourians think a lot of Gov. Huckabee,’ Martin said.”

The reporter also noted that Mr. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, has embarked on a “nationwide pastors speaking tour,” keynoting a Pastors & Pews event in Little Rock.

ABC News, though, is not convinced, quoting Georgetown professor Hans Noel as saying Christian conservatives “were not powerful enough to get Huckabee the nomination in 2008, and they are not vastly more powerful now.”

Yet Mr. Huckabee is making clear he’s seriously mulling a run — although he’s at least seeking some guidance.

Asked after his Little Rock, Ark., speech if he was running, Mr. Huckabee said, “The Lord knows, but he’s not telling just yet.”

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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