Later that month I followed him to a meet and greet at a pizza restaurant in Pella, IA. Only about 50 people came out to meet the man, but most were blown away. They loved the guy. That event, and the reasons they love him, more than anything made me think if Huckabee could somehow, some way get some traction, he could easily be the toughest opponent for Democrats in 2008.
Chris Cillizza examines that premise here. He lists some good reasons Huckabee may be tough, including his media savvy and facility with debates.
Here was my thinking at the time, and it hasn't much changed:
- He's a New Testament conservative. It's the Old Testament guys (and they are almost all guys) that tend to dominate religious conservative discourse, the kind that tends to be more about punishment for the guilty and fear of great social change and creeping immorality (aborition, gay marriage, etc.). The Old Testament rhetoric, and fundamentalism that often goes with it, scares a lot of Independent voters. Huckabee talks forgiveness, kindness and human potential. He doesn't scare people, he makes them feel welcome.
- Huckabee may be the only candidate who can hold together a GOP in danger of fracturing. Economic conservatives have their problems with the Other Man From Hope, but it's hard to see them abandoning the Party over it, especially since he's taken a pledge not to raise taxes. And while good-sized chunks of the religious right don't trust Giuliani, McCain or Romney, they're eating up Huckabee. That's where most of the Republican activists are, the ones who do much of the ground work in campaigns.
- I've talked to a lot of Republicans (mostly in Iowa) who have a soft spot for Obama. Some are going to vote for him. When talking to Democrats, Huckabee elicits the same sort of response. He's the guy in the GOP field they don't mind.
Of course, all this is based on what we see on the surface. The media is starting to vet Huck, importing whatever skeletons he may have from Arkansas. We don't know what we'll find or how the public will react. If he comes through relatively unscathed, though, he could be a formidable wild card for whom Democrats likely don't have a game plan.
Update: TNR's Barron Young Smith writes for the opposition.