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Posted at 2:43 PM ET, 02/25/2011

The case against Mike Huckabee

By Chris Cillizza



Should former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee run for president? Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Yesterday we made the case for why former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee should run for -- and can win -- the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Today we make the opposite case.

* A (non) organization man: Huckabee has spent the years in between his 2008 presidential run and today building his personal brand that now includes books, a radio show and a television show on Fox News Channel. What he hasn't done in that time is build any larger-scale campaign operation much beyond the spartan group he relied on in 2008. Huckabee allies insist that he can get by on his largely-volunteer organization composed of church-goers and home school advocates as he did last time around. But remember that while his non-formal organization worked in Iowa, it also ensured that he could not capitalize on the momentum his caucus win should have created for him. Huckabee flailed in New Hampshire, narrowly missed a win in South Carolina and was helpless to match the efforts of former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in Florida. While Huckabee allies tout 2008 as evidence that he doesn't need a traditional political organization, it's better understood as a missed opportunity largely because he didn't have a real organization in place. Huckabee's unwillingness to build that sort of operation heading into 2012 means that even if he could pull off another Iowa caucus win, he would likely fail to capitalize on it. Again.

* Money matters: A corollary to Huckabee's unwillingness or inability to put together a serious organization is his unwillingness or inability to put the pieces in place to raise the tens of millions he would need to compete seriously. In 2008, Huckabee raised $16 million for his campaign, a sum that was dwarfed by the likes of Romney, McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. While Huckabee's communications skills allowed him to excel in retail campaign states like Iowa and, to a lesser extent, South Carolina, he was non-competitive in larger states -- Florida, for one -- where millions were needed to reach voters on the airwaves. Huckabee allies insist he would have more financial backing this time around and note that his high name identification means he wouldn't need to raise or spend as much. True. But, if the the race goes beyond the first three states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Huckabee looks almost certain to watch as he is drastically outspent by rivals more committed to the cash collection process. Again.

* The pardon problem: Huckabee's pardon commutation of the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, a man who murdered four police officers in Seattle, Washington in 2009, is a major problem. While Huckabee's explanation of why he did what he did -- Clemmons was serving a 108-year sentence for robbery and theft when Huckabee commuted his sentence to 47 years and made him eligible for parole -- makes sense, it doesn't fit neatly into a 30-second ad. And, while Clemmons is the most infamous person Huckabee ever pardoned commuted the sentence of, he is far from the only one. In ten years as governor, Huckabee either pardoned or commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 people --- more than three time as many as the state's three previous governors combined. That's an opposition researcher's dream.

* Fiscal conservative?: While Huckabee is, first and foremost, a social conservative, his supporters insist he can also win over fiscal conservatives if he runs in 2012. But, Huckabee's record has rankled many leaders in fiscal conservative circles; the CATO Institute gave Huckabee an "F" in its 2006 fiscal policy report card -- one of only two Republican governors to earn that "distinction". The influential Club for Growth, too, made clear its antipathy toward Huckabee in the last election when it spent more than $500,000 attempting to stop his momentum in Iowa. Huckabee did raise taxes -- including the sales tax -- during his time as governor and, while he rightly notes it was done with bipartisan support and led to a budget surplus in the state, that may not satisfy die-hard fiscal conservatives. Huckabee faced relatively little scrutiny on his tax record during the 2008 primary fight but it would almost certainly be prime fodder for his opponents this time around.

* A "serious" hurdle: Huckabee made his name during the last presidential race with his sunny demeanor and his comedic timing. But, a winning smile and a terrific personality alone won't get you elected president. While it's an indisputable fact that Huckabee has high favorable numbers among voters, real questions remain as to whether there is a difference between liking him and believing he can be president. (Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may well face a similar problem if she runs in 2012 too.) Huckabee, then, must walk a tight rope -- stay true to the optimistic funny man that proved so winning in 2008 while also showing people that he is ready and able to be the leader of the free world. Huckabee is an able politician but that may be too difficult a challenge even for him.

By Chris Cillizza  | February 25, 2011; 2:43 PM ET
Categories:  Case For/Case Against  
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