Showing N.H. Voters More Than Faith
By Perry Bacon Jr.
LONDONDERRY, N.H. -- As he competes in New Hampshire, Mike Huckabee's campaign is trying to show another side of the man it promoted in Iowa as a "Christian leader." Now the emphasis is on a fun-loving guitar-playing man who really likes Chuck Norris.
Friday night in Henniker, Huckabee grabbed his bass guitar and jammed with a local band, then addressed a crowd that chanted "We Want Chuck" much louder than anything else. At a fundraiser Saturday for a charity in Londonderry, he spoke so warmly of Norris it seemed as if Huckabee was endorsing the actor, rather than the other way around.
"He's won so many world titles it's staggering to the imagination," the former Arkansas governor said of Norris's martial arts career. "... But there's another side to Chuck that a lot of people don't see. They see the tough guy, but behind that tough guy is a tender guy who loves his country."
Huckabee aides said that New Hampshire will be a tough sell for them because John McCain and Mitt Romney are strong here, but they believe two debates this weekend and these light-hearted events will help.
"There's a lot of sides to him," said Debra Vanderbeek, Huckabee's state director here. "It's important to show that to a lot of people who haven't heard much of him" before the Iowa victory.
Huckabee, after playing the guitar in Henniker, said, "Sometimes we have to remind people those of us who are Republicans have as much fun as anybody."
Whether Huckabee can broaden his image as a faith-oriented candidate is a different question. Tom Lewis, who attended the event in Londonderry, said he was deciding between McCain and Barack Obama, but called Huckabee "the most likable candidate."
"He's a fun person," Lewis said after watching Huckabee play the guitar. "Some religious people give off the impression they are holier than though, but he doesn't."
But Lewis said his daughter, a strong supporter of Obama, had told him of some controversial statements Huckabee made in 1992 regarding AIDS, including suggesting that it might be necessary to quarantine people who have the disease.
"I think she's turning me off him," Lewis said.
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