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Huckabee on Thompson,
Obama, and Keith Richards

VIDEO | Huckabee Does Keith Richards Impression

If one needs further proof that Mike Huckabee is on the move after placing a surprise second in this month's Iowa straw poll, consider that the former Arkansas governor is already daydreaming about who he'd have play at his presidential inauguration: the Rolling Stones. And lest you think that choice is aiming a bit high for a candidate still lagging far behind his rivals in polls and fundraising, bear in mind that Keith Richards owes him one.

As Huckabee reminded reporters at a Northern Virginia fundraiser Sunday evening, he had the foresight, as one of his final acts as governor last year, to issue a pardon to Richards for a misdemeanor conviction the Stones guitarist received in 1975. Richards and fellow band member Ron Wood were collared by a Fordyce cop who saw their car swerve on their way through Arkansas from Memphis to Dallas (Richards' defense: he was adjusting the radio.) Richards was charged with reckless driving and possession of a concealed knife. The latter charge was dropped, Richards pled guilty to the former and paid a $162.50 fine.

Huckabee recalls that he was mortified at the time, as a fledgling bass guitarist in the making, to have his state welcome one of the world's rock legends in such rude fashion. So when he met Richards backstage at a Little Rock concert last year and Richards jokingly brought up the arrest (at this point in the retelling Huckabee offered a serviceable Cockney imitation) Huckabee decided to invoke his powers to clear the record.

"And it's not like you just fill out a paper and sign it. You have to go a board, and hearings, but we did the whole thing, did it proper," said Huckabee, himself a member of a somewhat lesser-known band, Capitol Offense. "Of course, there were some cynics who said, 'I bet you just did that because he's with the Rolling Stones, you wouldn't do that for just anybody.' And I said, 'No I wouldn't.' I said, 'Here's the deal. If you can play guitar like Keith Richards, I'll do it for you.'"

The amiable 52-year-old was recalling his brush with fame at a $250-per-head, 100-guest fundraiser being held for him by fellow Arkansas native James D. Klote, a defense consultant, at his $2.4 million, 7,500 square-foot brick mansion on five acres in Great Falls. The palatial backdrop was just one sign that Huckabee is on the rise -- after raising less than $1 million in the first two months of the year, far behind frontrunners like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani and behind even most other second-tier candidates, he now has 16 fundraisers scheduled over the next two months.

But Huckabee did not let the moneyed surroundings keep him from offering his usual populist appeal, which the former minister delivers in language seldom heard from Republican candidates. "What you see today is CEOs who make 500 times that of their average worker, who take a $200 million bonus and buyout and steer the company into bankruptcy and the employees who work all those years end up losing their pension and their paychecks," he said. "That's not how America was made a strong nation economically."

Would such talk scare off donors and voters in a Republican primary? He thought not. "A lot of Republicans are people who want there to be free market system but they want it to be a free market system where there is an understanding that the people who bring about the wealth should share in it, not by government mandate but by nature of how a good free market really works," he said. "The people frankly that that turns off probably wouldn't be my kind of folks anyway. What it does, it turns on a whole lot of people .. in the heartland of America who know that no other Republican has had the courage to say that. But it doesn't offend people who are good strong entrepreneurs who have amassed great amounts of wealth but have also returned it back."

Huckabee was equally sanguine about the imminent entrance to the race of Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator who will likely compete for some of the same socially conservative voters as Huckabee. He noted that unlike Thompson, he has executive governing experience. "Certainly his entry is going to have a big presence," he said. "But the expectations are so incredibly high for him. It's challenging for anyone to walk into the arena with the expectation that anytime you step up to the plate you have to hit it into the third deck."

Huckabee offered some thoughts on the Democrats as well. He took on Hillary Clinton's observation late last week that a terrorist attack before the 2008 election would "automatically" help Republicans and that she would be the Democrat best suited to counter that. Huckabee disapproved of the remarks but said Clinton may not have intended for them to come across as they did. "Knowing how those kind of comments can be lifted out of context of a whole speech. I have some sympathy for her," he said. "Having said that, if we have a terrorist attack I'd like to think of it not in political terms but in terms of the incredible devastation it's going to wreak on first the families of the victims and second the soul and the psyche of this country. The politics of it frankly shouldn't be up for discussion. I don't truly believe she's out there trying to say that she's sure hoping there's not a terrorist attack for political reasons."

He saved his kindest words for Barack Obama, who in an appearance on the "Daily Show" last week twice mentioned Huckabee's name, and no others, when asked whether there were any Republican candidates he liked. "It shows that Barack Obama is greatly underestimated as an intellectual giant," Huckabee said, "And we should be thinking very seriously that he is the leading Democrat for having come to such an astute conclusion."

--Alec MacGillis

By Editors  |  August 27, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
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