- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mike Huckabee will make sure that he can raise at least $25 million — or even up to $50 million by the first week of February — before declaring for the Republican presidential nomination, the former Arkansas governor told The Washington Times on Sunday.

Mr. Huckabee, 59, managed to place second behind Arizona Sen. John McCain for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination despite having to run his campaign on a financial shoestring.

He will announce his decision sometime in spring of this year, he said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times on Sunday, less than a day after clearing the deck for a possible run by announcing his resignation as a Fox News television host.

Campaign finance laws barred Fox or any network or other organization from paying a candidate — even ones who have not formally declared as such — to appear on TV or write on the Internet or anywhere else.

Mr. Huckabee, who, despite being stiff-armed by the GOP establishment because of his evangelical Christian ideals, wound up as the next-to-last man standing in the 2008 nomination contest after defeating far-better-financed rivals in the Iowa caucuses that year. He went on to win seven more nomination contests — in Kansas and several Southern states — winning 199 delegates to the GOP nominating convention, second to Mr. McCain’s 1,331 total.

“Republicans who kept money in their wallets let me down in 2008,” he said. “If they had shelled out early, I would have gone all the way. I was outspent dime to dollar by my opponents.”

The former Southern Baptist minister said his other main criterion for running will be whether “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” the new book he has coming out, “resonates with people — based on sales and if the ideas in the book find wide acceptance with the public. “If it does, that will be strong affirmation” of his viability as a candidate, he said.

If it doesn’t, he “may have a clearer picture” of why he should or shouldn’t run.

As for whether a Christian who wears his faith on his sleeve can win the GOP nomination, he said, “My faith isn’t just on my sleeve; it comes from inside out. I don’t impose my faith on anyone. But neither do I deny it.”

He said he won’t sling back any mud that his rivals send his way if he runs, but he will defend himself against false accusations.

“You have to defend yourself and challenge inaccuracies, but you do not have to lower yourself into the mud puddle,” he said.

“When a campaign is over within the GOP, all the people who challenged the nominee have to walk up on stage and say he’ll be a great president,” he said. “If you’ve spent a year and a half telling America he’s not fit for the job, the only thing America can assume is that you were a liar then or are now.”

As the one candidate with a virtually unchallenged Christian-gentleman and humble-man image in what is expected to be an exceptionally large field, he was able to say with some plausibility: “If I run for president, I will run because of what I can do, not what my opponents can’t do.

“The world is on fire, and America is looking for a firefighter, not a pyromaniac,” he added.

His biggest rival for evangelical voters’ support is thought to be Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, castigated by much of the GOP establishment as something of a pyromaniac when it comes to insistence on principle over politics in matters of policy and politics in the Senate.

Still, Mr. Huckabee declined to assess explicitly Mr. Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or any other potential 2016 contenders.

GOP operatives in key states say privately they know who will be running the Huckabee campaign in those states, but when asked if he has a national chairman and other people in mind for top posts in a campaign organization, Mr. Huckabee himself said it’s too early to talk about such matters.

“The bigger question is for people who said Huckabee won’t run because he won’t walk away from his gig at Fox.” Mr. Huckabee said the answer to his own question is, “Well, I just did.”

Mr. Huckabee’s easy likability is known to relatively few voters because he got tagged as a candidate of the religious right. As a result, he has been shunned by much of the party establishment and its coterie of wealthy individual and corporate donors.

What greets voters who do get to see the man in person is Mr. Huckabee asking, “What five words does an Arkansas politician most dread hearing?” He replies: “Will the defendant please rise,” answering his own question with a twinkle in the eye and a broad smile with words he has been reciting for years.

He can get away with calling politicians from his home state crooks because he has so undisputedly clean a reputation as a Christian minister and of being loyal to his wife and children and following the biblical rules of the road.

But political rhetoric aside, the reason why Mr. Huckabee would run — or, as he would have it, quit his day job as TV host to mull over a strategy for running — is unclear to many campaign operatives and consultants.

He lost the 2008 nomination to Mr. McCain, who is said to have had more enemies in the GOP establishment and in the conservative movement than any nominee before or since. And while Mr. Huckabee is disdained by what used to be called the GOP “country club crowd,” he nonetheless had few real enemies among Republicans in high or low places.

There is a plethora of reasons for him to enjoy a measure of optimism this time.

The recent Supreme Court decision unshackling potential contributors and the dollar totals they may contribute is expected to give a candidate like Mr. Huckabee competitive amounts of big-dollar contributions from ultrarich donors on the religious right — and from conservative Jewish donors who share Mr. Huckabee’s affection for Israel.

Mr. Huckabee can also pitch the idea that he knows how to run for office, to govern successfully once elected and to get by on a tenth of what his rivals raise if he must.

He rode coach class on commercial planes, without aides to prepare his speeches, carry his bags or fetch him the thousand and one things better-financed candidates need or think they need. The former governor may quietly remind potential supporters that he does not waste donors’ money on needless or useless efforts that benefit consultants and operatives more than candidates.

Out of office since 2007, he is nonetheless competitive in national surveys. In a just-released CNN-ORC poll, Mr. Huckabee tied Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul for fourth place among Republican voters asked whom they’d like their party to nominate next year.

Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush placed first, 10 percentage points ahead of nearest rival New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But historically, front-runners in polls this early sometimes run out of gas by the start of the presidential primary season or a few weeks into it.

Treating polls as crystal balls is a mistake. As late as December 2007, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani led the GOP presidential nomination field with a nod from 25 percent of party voters, and John McCain, the eventual nominee, came in fifth at 12 percent.

But Mr. Huckabee’s ace in the hole this time may be that an estimated 65 million to 80 million Americans fall into the evangelical Christian category, and white born-again Christians tend to vote overwhelmingly Republican when they vote. Some 130 million Americans voted in the 2012 presidential elections.

So Mr. Huckabee can figure that if it will take something like 66 million votes to win in 2016, and if a much larger percentage of evangelicals turns out than in the past, and if Mr. Huckabee were the nominee, he might stand a good chance of winning the presidency.

But to get nominated by his own party, he would almost surely have to win (or place second) in one or more of the first four GOP primaries and caucuses in February 2016: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Then the massive Super Tuesday primaries on March 1 will feature states with concentrations of religious conservatives. Mr. Huckabee by then may or may not still be competing for the religious right vote with Mr. Cruz, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Mr. Huckabee has the right stuff for the 65 million-plus religious voters who can vote if someone moves them to do so.

They know or will learn that Mr. Huckabee has maintained his stance that homosexual behavior and abortion are sinful. His stand on homosexual behavior may not sit well with a portion of younger, more tolerant evangelicals, but it does sit well with the older, more numerous evangelicals.

He has been as staunch a champion of Israel’s security and America’s militarily guaranteeing that security as the most pro-Zionist politician in either party. He has been leading tours to Israel for wealthy U.S. evangelical Christians and Jews for years.

Next month he will lead on a tour of Israel a small planeload of pastors from key early-voting states — 22 from South Carolina (including a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention), 20 from Iowa, eight from Nevada (including the founder of a megachurch with more than 6,000 congregants in the state) and two pastors from New Hampshire.

Like many other evangelicals, Mr. Huckabee believes that the existence of Israel is a requisite for the second coming of Christ. Asked by The Times on Sunday which would be more important to him during a Huckabee presidency, the preservation of Israel or of the U.S., he said, “Israel’s survival is not about my personal theology. It is important to the freedom of the world to protect an outpost of democracy surrounded by totalitarianism.”

Evangelicals, fundamentalists and orthodox Catholics have been important — even crucial in some states and congressional districts — to GOP victories since leaders on the right like Phyllis Schlafly and the late Paul Weyrich began systematic efforts in the 1970s to persuade them to come out and vote.

In the 2012 elections, 52 percent of the Republican vote came from born-again, pro-life Christians, with 86 percent of the born-again people who went to the polls voting Republican. Of the 130 million total votes, 32 percent were evangelicals, said David Lane of the American Renewal Project.

What could benefit historically cash-poor religious conservative candidates like Mr. Huckabee, in ways unheard of till now, is Mr. Lane’s project — which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich affectionately dubbed the “Pastors and Pews” project, and which has undertaken the most massive campaign ever to get religious Americans involved in politics as voters, campaign volunteers and office seekers.

At the end of December, Mr. Lane’s Pastors and Pews, which is a subsidiary of the American Family Association, emailed 100,000 evangelical ministers around the country, beseeching the pastors to pray for 30 days and then to commit to run for everything from the local school board to city council, mayor, county commissioner, state legislator, attorney general and governor.

The digital beseechment also urged the pastors to urge members of their congregations to seek elected positions.

Mr. Lane will also direct, on a larger scale, a pilot project he ran to increase evangelical turnout in states with heavy concentrations.

That project targeted 50,000 to 75,000 evangelical voters whom Mr. Lane was able to identify as having a low propensity for voting in nonpresidential election years. His project focused on two congressional districts in each selected state.

The idea of simply distributing voters’ guides or candidate report cards in churches was augmented by Facebook ads, personal phone calls, direct mail solicitations and the old-fashioned ground-game practice of knocking on voters’ doors — for a total of seven to 11 “touches” per each potential voter before and on Election Day.

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