Mike Huckabee has a lot of things going for him. The former Arkansas governor was the number three Republican in the 2008 presidential primaries, finishing behind Senator John McCain (2008 GOP nominee) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (2012 GOP nominee). Despite fading in the 2008 race, Huckabee enjoyed bipartisan praise and was considered to be a good vice presidential option for nominee John McCain, who is now widely thought to have erred when he instead chose Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Now Huckabee, a Fox News and ABC News commentator, is exploring a 2016 presidential run, having sat out 2012. Slate reports that the conservative former governor has quit his media posts and is about to embark on a national tour for his new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy. This makes Huckabee the second major Republican figure to effectively begin running for the presidency in 2016, coming shortly after former Florida governor Jeb Bush also started an “exploratory committee.”
But the big question: Does Huckabee even have a shot at winning?
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, is a different breed than Jeb Bush. While Bush is a mainstream moderate Republican, tending toward the middle like his family forebears and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Huckabee is more of a maverick in the vein of 2008 Republican nominee John McCain.
The former governor speaks his mind, often controversially, and can rile voters with his religiosity. This will likely be his biggest weakness, and it’s a big weakness. He also lacks the name recognition of some of the other GOP heavyweights like Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio. While the lack of name recognition is a big problem to overcome, it could help him in the beginning if Republican infighting allows him to fly under the radar while bigger names, like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, knock each other bloody.
As for true advantages, Huckabee could win big by establishing himself early on as the “true conservative” alternative to moderate-leaning Bush. In 2012 it was common for Republican candidates other than eventual nominee Mitt Romney to be branded “true conservatives” by their supporters. Those who felt Romney lost the general election in 2012 by not presenting a clear, conservative alternative to president Barack Obama may be in the mood to quickly get behind the first “true conservative” of 2016…which would be Mike Huckabee.
Despite his controversial nature, Huckabee enjoys considerable executive experience from his 10 years as governor of Arkansas, making him the most experienced Republican contender, at least on paper. Bush served eight years as governor of Florida and has kept a low profile since then, even lower than Huckabee. Chris Christie is still in his second term as governor of New Jersey and is just as controversial as Huckabee, if not more so. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are merely junior U.S. senators.
In addition to his unique footing on the campaign trail, Huckabee is also a skilled writer and orator, giving him an advantage over less eloquent and media-savvy candidates. Also, Huckabee’s personal story of weight loss through exercise and hard work gives him a voter-friendly narrative…and could portray competitor Chris Christie, sometimes mocked for his heft, in a negative light.
Huckabee’s an unlikely Republican nominee in 2016, but he has a chance!