by John Gizzi
Presidential politics was in full swing at the Midwest Republican Conference here, as Mike Huckabee brought the 400-plus guests to their feet with a fighting luncheon speech.
"I'm a little sick of runnng a credit card through the gas pump and knowing I just made the Saudi oil family a little more rich," the former Arkansas governor told the cheering crowd, underscoring his call for energy independence by the United States. Huckabee went on to decry spending "$250-to-half a billion dollars a year on compliance" by Americans with the federal income tax, and repeated his now-familiar call for a "fair [consumption] tax" that "a kid running a lemonade stand could understand."
Serenaded by luncheon guests on his 52nd birthday ("Now tell me how great I look!" he joked to them), Huckabee also spoke of the Republican Party as "the party of Main Street and not Wall Street" and gave his reasons for being a Republican, which included his beliefs that "life begins at conception" and marriage "is between a man and a woman and nothing else."
When I spoke to Huckabee before the lunch, he and top fund-raiser Chip Salzman made it clear that his stunning second-place finish in the Iowa "straw vote" ten days ago had given him the momentum of a rocket ship. Having raised $1.3 million for his campaign up until the vote in Ames, Iowa, Huckabee "has now brought in several hundred thousand dollars just since then," according to Salzman, formerly the top fund-raiser for onetime Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.). In addition, the governor is sandwiching in his speaking engagements with a string of 20 fund-raisers, including events in Virginia, California, and Missouri. The Huckabee campaign also released a string of major political endorsements in New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation primary.
His recent fund-raising and publicity success notwithstanding, the Republican "man from Hope" did tell me before lunch that he finds distasteful the process by which candidates' status is determined by how much money you raise. "Successful fund-raising doesn't make you credible -- it just makes you rich," he said, adding that his views are shared by some of the other B-Team candidates and that he may be endorsed by at least one who has dropped out of the race so far.
"I understand the frustration [of candidates forced to drop out because of financial constraints]," he said, "and when money determines a president, we'll have a plutocracy. Like a growing number of state Republican chairmen, Huckabee voiced positive feelings about getting out of primaries in the future and letting states determine national convention delegates by convention or caucus (the venue for national convention delegate selection in most states up until the mid-1970's.) "It might be a better way [to select presidential nominees]," he told me, and went on to note that the present primary system "is consultant-driven and advertising-driven. It's hard for a candidate to study issues when he has to ask for money in small increments all the time."
"You give me enough money," said Huckabee with a laugh, "And I'll look like my head should be Mount Rushmore. But it wouldn't be necesssarily true."
John Gizzi is Political Editor of HUMAN EVENTS.
by John Gizzi