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Posted at 11:41 AM ET, 02/24/2011

The case for Mike Huckabee

By Chris Cillizza

Is Mike Huckabee going to run for president? AP Photo/Gregory Smith

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is the paradox presidential candidate.

On the one hand, he's in the midst of a national tour in support of a book that lays out "twelve things we really need from Washington (and a trillion that we don't)", according to the subtitle. Huckabee's book tour features six -- yes, six! -- stops in Iowa and another five in South Carolina, two of the states that will play an outsized role in picking the next presidential nominee.

On the other, Huckabee is slated to spend a week on a Christian cruise through Alaska from June 5-12 -- an odd thing to do if you would be an announced candidate for president by then -- and, in recent interviews, has sounded something short of enthusiastic about the prospect of running for national office again.

So, which is it? Is Huckabee gearing up to run or getting ready to take a pass?

Today we make the case for why Huckabee should not only run for president but can be the GOP nominee. Tomorrow, we make the opposite case.

(Make sure to check out our case for and case against former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as a potential presidential candidate.)

* The great communicator: Huckabee proved during the 2008 campaign that he stands head and shoulders above most other politicians in the party when it comes to connecting with average people. At the start of the 2008 campaign, Huckabee was a blip -- at best -- on the radar of most politicians and political operatives. But, he used the debate-laden process to showcase his wit and common-sense rhetorical approach, traits that helped him break out of the very crowded second tier. (It also helped that the likes of Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson largely ignored Huckabee until it was too late.) He's parlayed that gift for gab into a series of books and a television show on Fox News Channel. And it's what makes him stand out in the slow-starting 2012 field. Huckabee will be a dynamic presence in every debate -- and there will be lots and lots of them -- and his common touch when it comes to communicating with voters is a unique gift that can't be taught.

* A known commodity: What 2008 did for Huckabee is turn him into a nationally known figure within the party. Look at any 2012 Republican primary poll -- like this one from Gallup yesterday -- and Huckabee is at or near the top. Ditto any early numbers coming out of Iowa, the state that will almost assuredly kick off the the 2012 nominating fight. It will take millions of dollars for people like former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) or current Govs. Mitch Daniels (Ind.) or Haley Barbour (Miss.) to raise their name identification to Huckabee-like levels. And, unlike some other well-known potential candidates -- like a certain former Alaska governor -- Huckabee is both well-known AND well-liked by primary voters. That's a potent combination, particularly in a presidential race where voters often vote on feel -- choosing the candidate they are most comfortable with and believe understands them best.

* Early state strength: Assuming the current morass over the Republicans' nominating calendar clears up before 2012, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- in that order --- will be the first three states to cast ballots. Huckabee has demonstrated strength in two of the three, one of the only potential candidates who can credibly make that claim. Huckabee won convincingly in Iowa in 2008 relying on a grassroots network of supporters and there's no reason to think that same group won't be behind him again if he runs. In South Carolina, there is a strong case to be made that Huckabee would have won the primary in 2008 had Fred Thompson not stayed in the race just long enough to split support among conservatives -- allowing McCain to shoot the gap and score a win. (Huckabee wound up losing the Palmetto State to McCain by just three points.) Huckabee's decision to lavish attention on both Iowa and South Carolina -- 11 stops on the book tour in those two states alone! -- suggests that he is (smartly) keeping in close contact with voters in each.

* True believer: Huckabee spent the early part of his professional life as a Baptist minister and during the 2008 campaign spoke openly about the role that religion played in his political life. Part of Huckabee's surprising success in 2008 was that white evangelical Protestants, who comprise a significant voting bloc in a Republican presidential primary, saw him as one of their own rather than just another politician trying to win their votes. The native strength for Huckabee within that community breeds a level of loyalty that is the envy of the rest of the field. Huckabee's volunteer network -- largely built on his religious roots -- is large, dedicated and active, a major x-factor when considering whether he could compete with the almost-certainly better-funded operations of Romney and Pawlenty.

By Chris Cillizza  | February 24, 2011; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  Case For/Case Against  
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