- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a tremendous long shot for winning the Republican presidential nomination, but he has the potential to undermine Sen. John McCain’s general election prospects, as Pat Buchanan did to President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

“If he stays, he might indeed become like Pat Buchanan — not that he’d represent a serious challenge to McCain, but that he’d be seeking to establish himself as a national representative of largely southern evangelicals,” said Hoover Institution scholar and former presidential speechwriter Peter Robinson.

“Why should Huck stay in the race?” he said. “To be honest, I’d been assuming — no inside info here, just an assumption — that Huck would bow out by about this time next week.”

In 1992, Mr. Buchanan challenged from the right a sitting president — and fellow Republican — who had run as a Reagan conservative but governed more like a tax-and-spend Lyndon B. Johnson liberal.

Weakened with the Republican Party’s conservative base by Mr. Buchanan’s relentless attacks, Mr. Bush went on to lose to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in an election in which much of the Republican core vote is thought to have sat on its hands.

Mr. Huckabee, who plans to highlight his own differences with Mr. McCain on abortion and protection of marriage, could serve the role of foil to the Arizona senator this year.

So far, Mr. Huckabee has been soft on Mr. McCain and hard on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination yesterday. Mr. Huckabee’s approach helped him score some big wins Tuesday in the Southeast, keeping him the contest even though he lacks the delegate count to really compete.

He went into Super Tuesday claiming to be the only true social conservative. He poked Mr. Romney as a flip-flopper. Most important, Mr. Huckabee drew conservative voters — and there were lots of them — who were disenchanted with Mr. McCain. Last night, his campaign picked up a big social-conservative endorsement — James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins could not have made clearer the strategy from here on out.

“Conservatives had the opportunity to pick a real conservative in the South. And they did,” he said after Tuesday’s results were in.

Mr. Rollins, the day before Mr. Romney’s departure, vowed that his candidate will continue to fight the conservative fight.

“[W]e are going to pursue the nomination and draw the contrasts with McCain on conservative issues,” said Mr. Rollins.

If Mr. Huckabee fills the Buchanan role, Mr. McCain also fills the Bush role, said Republican strategist Paul Erickson, who ran Mr. Buchanan’s 1992 campaign against Mr. Bush and worked for Mr. Romney’s campaign this year.

“McCain is the Bush 41 understudy in the 2008 campaign,” he said.

“If nominated, McCain will depress the Republican base and elect a Clinton to the White House. Since we’ve seen this play before, the good news should be that the Republicans would get the U.S. House back two years later.”

Dr. Randy Brinson, a Montgomery, Ala., physician and founder of the national Redeem the Vote movement, has close contact with Mr. Huckabee and says he “is going full force for the delegates and the nomination.”

Dr. Brinson said Mr. Huckabee’s campaign strategy “is to engage the evangelicals and true conservatives to get out and vote for Huck. Major states still in play include Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.”

Mr. Huckabee is even in polls with Mr. McCain in Kansas, said Dr. Brinson.

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