Tuesday, May 13, 2008

McCain/Huckabee ’08

Talk about your dream ticket.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and defeated contender for the GOP presidential nomination, is currently at the top of John McCain’s short list for a running mate. At least that’s the word from a top McCain fundraiser and longtime Republican moneyman who has spoken to McCain’s inner circle. The fundraiser is less than thrilled with the idea of Huckabee as the vice presidential nominee, and many economic conservatives—turned off by the populist tone of Huckabee’s campaign and his tax record as governor—are likely to share that marked lack of enthusiasm. But here is the logic of picking Huckabee:

1) He is a great campaigner and communicator who could both shore up support in the South among social conservatives (Huckabee is a former Baptist minister) and appeal to working-class voters in the critical “Big 10” states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

2) As any pollster knows, voters search for candidates who “care about people like me,” and Huckabee would probably score a lot higher on that quality than millionaire investor Mitt Romney. Plus, given all the turmoil on Wall Street, 2008 would seem to be a bad year to pick a former investment banker for veep.

3) Economic conservatives and supply-siders may balk, but the threat of four years of Obamanomics and higher investment, income, and corporate taxes might be enough to keep them on board.

Let me add that a top Republican political strategist told me about a month ago that he also believed Huckabee to be the leading veep contender.

This is probably yet another trial balloon, floated by the McCain staff just to see the response: last week it was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and before that it was Condoleezza Rice. But if it’s for the real, the Democrats can pretty much be assured of winning the election.

But wait; isn’t the conventional wisdom that the vice presidential choice doesn’t really matter? After all, people don’t vote for vice president, and we have had some real whoppers on the ticket and they win — Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle come to mind. But this time it’s a little different.

John McCain has trouble with the far right-wing of his party, and a Huckabee selection would pretty much mollify the evangelical vote, but if this post titled “Sgt. Carter/Gomer Pyle 2008” on a conservative blog is any guide, he’s still got a long way to go with the rest of the hard-core.

And on the other side, McCain needs to bring in the moderate and independent voters, and having a Baptist preacher who doesn’t believe in evolution, is hard-core anti-abortion, and thinks that God’s law trumps the Constitution on the ticket would probably scare them off. With good reason. Mike Huckabee may be all folksy and funny, but underneath it he’s not that far off from James Dobson.

But hey, if that’s what John McCain wants, far be it from me to cast aspersions. Go nuts.