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Mike Huckabee steps into the limelight

by Jordan Green

The North Carolina political class’ love affair with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee bloomed last week.

Jim Rumley, a property manager and former candidate for NC House, stood in a line that stretched three quarters of the distance between Mary Elizabeth Irvin’s residence and the sidewalk at West Market Street in Greensboro, waiting for the chance to meet the former Arkansas governor who has recently surged to the front of the pack in polls of likely Republican voters in North Carolina.

“He’s going to be the next president of the United States,” Rumley said. “He has the right demeanor and character. He has the right ideas about what this country needs.”

Rumley pinched the buttoned flaps of his suit jacket between a thumb and a forefinger and pulled the garment several inches from his abdomen.

“Since I’ve seen you last, I’ve lost twenty-five pounds,” he said. “This jacket used to be tight on me. That’s partly because of Mike Huckabee. The man has done so much he inspires others.”

Huckabee famously lost 110 pounds after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes and subsequently ran four marathons. As the champion of weight loss, Huckabee penned the political bio-cum-self-help book,Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork. He plays bass in a rock and roll band called Capitol Offense and he once pardoned Rolling Stones guitar player Keith Richards for a reckless driving offense in Arkansas. Some describe the plain spoken and self-effacing Arkansan as “Reaganesque.”

An ordained Baptist minister who once presided over the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Huckabee’s classic social conservative stance against abortion and gay marriage is softened by his genial personality and articulated passion for education and children’s healthcare. He vies with Mitt Romney for the Christian conservative vote, but his Baptist religion engenders less discomfort than Romney’s Mormonism. On foreign policy matters, his advocacy of staying the course in Iraq falls in line with most of his Republican rivals, but his suggestion that the United States’ relationship with Pakistan might be recalibrated to achieve better cooperation on counterterrorism efforts would mark a departure.

On immigration, The New York Times reports that Huckabee supported providing the children of undocumented immigrants with in-state tuition, a stance that sends a signal contradictory to his current proposal. He now says he would complete a fence along the US-Mexico border by 2010, require undocumented immigrants to return to their home countries and apply for citizenship or face a 10-year ban on reentry. He also promises to impose “steep” fines and penalties on employers who flout the law, and to tighten verification procedures to prevent undocumented immigrants from using false Social Security numbers to stay on the job.

He boasts of cutting taxes and reducing welfare rolls in Arkansas, but the Raleigh News & Observer reports that he also signed a minimum wage increase into law as governor. That combined with his current support for the so-called FairTax gives him something of a libertarian-populist appeal.

Representatives of both the economic and social ends of the grassroots spectrum were in evidence at Huckabee’s Greensboro fundraising reception on Dec. 6.

Some 20-25 members of a local FairTax group wearing placards around their necks lined the sidewalk. Others were inside attending the reception. Russell Stockwell, director of the congressional District 6 chapter, said they wanted to thank Huckabee for endorsing their legislation.

Diane Bauguess, a full-time substitute teacher for Guilford County Schools who lives in High Point, gushed, “He represents the Lord and his values, and he represents the foundational values of this country. By the way, separation of church and state doesn’t exist. A lot of people don’t know that.

“He demonstrates a moral, ethical lifestyle,” she added. “I don’t think when he leaves the White House, you’re going to have to worry about him taking the silverware with him.”

Others who shelled out the minimum $100 donation to meet Huckabee had not yet made up their minds who to support. Among them was Chris Beaman, Greensboro office manager for Republican Rep. Howard Coble, who remarked that $100 was a modest price for the opportunity to size up the candidate in person. She had also attended a reception for Rudy Giuliani at NC A&T University earlier in the week, and declared herself impressed.

Host Irvin was also among those who hadn’t finalized their decisions. Although she gathered a positive impression of the former Arkansas governor when he spoke at the 2006 NC Republican Party convention in New Bern, Irvin said she was still torn between Huckabee and Romney. “He doesn’t have a lot of baggage like some of the others,” Irvin said of Huckabee. “He’s really coming up.”

The crucial decisions about which candidates will win their respective parties’ nomination are already being made. According to a primary election calendar compiled by The New York Times, by the time North Carolina voters go the polls on May 6, 2,099 of the Republican Party’s roughly 2,500 delegates will have already been apportioned. Both parties’ nominees are likely to be largely decided by the time of the Feb. 5 “Super Tuesday,” when voters in 14 states go to the polls.

The crucial race then in states like North Carolina, whose primaries land late in the sequence, is the money race. Cash raised here and in other late-primary states will allow candidates to shoulder the cost of deploying large campaign staffs on the ground and pouring money into media buys in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first caucus and primary of the election season are respectively held.

Huckabee’s fundraising total for North Carolina as of the end of September was dwarfed by the amount of cash raised by Giuliani, but the affable former governor has lined up support from some of the state’s prominent politicians. With a recent Public Policy survey giving him a strong lead among Republican candidates in North Carolina and other polls showing him at or near the front in Iowa, Huckabee was poised to ride a wave of excitement during a whirlwind swing through the Carolinas late last week. The first floor of the Irvin home in Greensboro was clogged with attendees writing checks in the front hallway, and a small space was cleared in one of the house’s sitting rooms for the candidate to greet patrons for a quick photo and handshake.

The event’s official hosts were North Carolina campaign chairman Bill Cobey, a former congressman, along with NC House Minority Leader Paul Stam of Apex and NC Republican Joint Caucus Leader Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem. The former congressman and wife Nancy Cobey have each donated $2,300 to the Huckabee campaign.

The next day the candidate was scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Charlotte before making a two-day visit to South Carolina. By the following Saturday evening, he was due in Asheville for a fundraiser at the Grove Park Inn. Immediately after the Huckabee reception, the candidate was scheduled to attend former Rep. Charles Taylor’s annual holiday dinner, also at the Grove Park Inn. Taylor, a Brevard banker who was defeated in 2006 by Democratic challenger Heath Shuler, has donated $2,300 to the Huckabee campaign, and his wife has given an equal amount.

As Huckabee gains prominence in the public eye, his candidacy is coming under more intense scrutiny, and on Dec. 8 he defended a statement made during an early 1990s Senate campaign in support of isolating people infected with the HIV virus.

His faith is also likely to be subjected to closer examination.

Last week Huckabee announced the addition of Charmaine Yoest as senior advisor in policy and communications to his campaign. Yoest is taking a leave of absence from the Family Research Council to join the campaign. Having supplanted the Christian Coalition as the preeminent lobbying group for the Christian conservative movement, the council “champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society” and promotes “the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis of a just, free and stable society.”

Yoest’s hiring came within days of public endorsements from the Georgia Right to Life Political Action Committee, a coalition of Iowa pastors and Christian fundamentalist author Tim LaHaye, who is credited with helping found the Institute for Creation Research, described as “the nation’s foremost exponent of creationist materials.”

“During the twenty-five years I have known Mike Huckabee, he has proven himself to be a Christian conservative who stands without apology for the pro-life, pro-marriage platform that is so important in this time of moral collapse,” said LaHaye, whose dispensationalist theology holds that a final battle between the forces of good and evil is imminent.

A co-author of the popular “Left Behind” book series, LaHaye described the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel as a “super sign” of the second coming of Christ in a 2002 interview with National Public Radio broadcaster Terry Gross. Jews, like everyone else, must convert to Christianity or suffer the consequences of eternal damnation, he said.

“The Bible makes it clear that Israel and Jerusalem and the Middle East will be the focal point of the world’s interest factor, and in my lifetime, at least my professional lifetime, that’s been the main focus,” LaHaye told Gross. “Because the Bible predicted that the end-times would focus on the Middle East. And the thing that’s drawing them, of course, is oil. What we’re seeing here is a not-so-subtle attempt to control the world’s oil because who controls the oil controls the world.”

It remains unclear whether Huckabee shares LaHaye’s view of the Middle East as an arena for an apocalyptic showdown between the forces of good and evil. Huckabee’s foreign policy statement suggests a more pragmatic approach.

“Right after September 11, with wounds fresh and emotions running high, President Bush declared that all other countries were either for us or they were for the terrorists,” it reads. “Such a black-and-white stance doesn’t work in the Arab and Muslim worlds, where there are more shades of gray than you’ll find at Sherwin-Williams.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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