Huckabee, Looking to 2016 Race, Speaks of ‘a Real Opportunity for Me’
Published: December 13, 2013
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has not been among the Republicans frequently named as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, but he would like that to change.
“I’m keeping the door open,” Mr. Huckabee said in an interview here Thursday night about the possibility of seeking his party’s nomination again. “I think right now the focus needs to be on 2014, but I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a real opportunity for me.”
Mr. Huckabee, a Christian conservative who made a splash by winning the 2008 Iowa caucuses before seeing his cash-short bid overwhelmed in subsequent states, said he would not run this time unless he could finance a durable campaign.
“If I talk to people and they say, ‘If you run, we’re in and we’re in a big way,’ that’s going be helpful,” he said. “If I don’t hear that, you know what? This will be a real easy decision for me to make because I’ve jumped in a pool without water before and it’s a hard hit at the bottom.”
Since his defeat in 2008, Mr. Huckabee, a pastor-turned governor, has made a living off his show on Fox News, a talk radio program he just gave up and a steady schedule of paid speeches all over the country. He said he did not run for president in 2012 because he did not think President Obama could be defeated, but he also acknowledged he has enjoyed earning a measure of financial comfort and celebrity through his show.
It is those two factors, along with the rise of “super PACs” that let a single wealthy individual sustain a candidate lacking a major financial network, that he says are making him look closely at a second presidential run.
But he also suggested that one of the reasons he granted an interview about his political future after addressing a gathering of pastors is that he is still bothered about how his first presidential run ended — and he wants the respect he believes is due somebody who performed better than more-vaunted candidates and who remains popular with many conservatives.
Discussing the potential Republican field in 2016, Mr. Huckabee said it would be “tough” for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to win such conservative redoubts as Iowa and South Carolina, two early nominating states.
“Let me show you some polling,” Mr. Huckabee said, brandishing a two-page memo about a survey his longtime pollster took earlier this month suggesting that he was leading the Republican field in both Iowa and South Carolina. He boasted that such good numbers came at a time when “nobody has even talked about me being named” as a candidate.
Mr. Huckabee dismissed the notion that pride was a factor in his decision to float a possible campaign.
“Anybody who would run for any reason other than to win is an idiot,” he said. But he quickly warmed to a question about not getting credit for his skepticism about the health of the economy as he campaigned in the months before the 2008 stock market crash and financial meltdown.
“A lot of things I said that I was sneered at about turned out to be prophetic,” he said about the criticism he took from fellow Republicans over his focus on the working class during the 2008 campaign. “A year later I looked like a genius, but nobody ever said, ‘Huckabee was right,’ ” he said.
Were he to run in 2016, he said, he believes that his brand of populism would be among his best assets and perhaps appealing to the Republican electorate if the recovery continues to be fitful for some.
“If Republicans want to win, they’ve got to go get a portion of the population they’ve missed the last two election cycles, particularly working-class people and minorities who have not thought there was a message for them,” he said. But Mr. Huckabee, a social conservative who has drawn fire from some economic conservatives over the years, also suggested his decision would also be based on whether Republicans continue demanding strict adherence to conservative orthodoxy.
“Does the Republican Party want to win elections or do they want fight each other in a purity war? he asked, calling attention to the many incumbent senators who have drawn primary opponents aligned with the Tea Party.
He seems intent on running only if he knows the experience will be unlike his last run, when he “was defined by my opponents,” he said. In that race, he had so little money to live on that he had to leave the campaign to give paid speeches.
Asked if he was financially comfortable enough now to give up his lucrative television job, Mr. Huckabee, who lives in a beachfront home on the Florida gulf coast, conceded that this was “a big issue.”
“And it’s not why I’m in a big hurry to do anything” he added.