What is Huckabee’s Next Move?


Now that Mike Huckabee lost South Carolina, he needs to figure out how to broaden his appeal beyond Evangelicals. Read below from CNN exit poll information:

Exit polls found self-described evangelical Christians made up nearly 60 percent of the vote, and Huckabee -- an ordained Baptist minister who emphasized his conservative Christian credentials -- was the choice of 40 percent of those voters. But he took only 12 percent of the nonevangelical vote, while McCain took 40 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 21 percent.

McCain ran strong in the coastal Low Country around Charleston and ran even with Huckabee in the state's inland Piedmont region, according to exit polls.

Huckabee won the first contest of 2008, the Iowa caucuses, with a strong turnout from his fellow evangelicals. But he placed third in the next major contests of the race, in New Hampshire and Michigan, while coming in fifth in Saturday's Nevada caucuses, which Romney -- the winner in the Michigan primary Tuesday -- won easily.

Republicans named the economy as the most important issue affecting their vote in the South Carolina primary Saturday, according to early exit polling data, echoing Nevada voters in caucuses earlier in the day. And, like Nevada voters, illegal immigration was the second-most important issue.

The war in Iraq, followed by terrorism, were next, the exit polls showed.

 Huckabee has a few problems here. First, if he gets pigeon-holed as the Evangelical candidate that limits his appeal. Plus, since national security and foreign policy are very important to Evangelicals as well, he gets hurt by McCain and maybe even Giuliani to a certain extent. There’s another factor that hasn’t been talked about and that is Rush Limbaugh. The popular radio talk show host (who has millions of listeners) has been constantly ripping Huckabee for weeks and weeks. Some voters mention the fact that the “very conservative” Limbaugh has problems with Huckabee and they remember what Rush says. Nobody can measure that impact quantitatively but it’s there.
A couple of positives here: Huckabee’s concession speech was very nice. It was positive and has put himself perfectly into the role of “nice guy politician” which is a fresh change. That may resonate in the future with voters. Also, Huckabee may benefit if Thompson gets out of the race. It’s too early to tell but some of that southern support may go his way. That will help him on February 5th.
Huckabee is a great communicator with a strong message but until he can show a little more muscle and substance on the foreign policy issues, he’ll have to work hard to overcome the building reputation of a lightweight.  It may not have to be drastic, but the Huckabee camp will have to retool this campaign somehow so it’s built to last beyond just Evangelicals.

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