Huckabee's Appeal Doesn't Help Presidential Bid

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister, former governor of Arkansas, and has conservative credentials. Still, his poll results hover in low single-digit range.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In the race for the White House, of course, there are the frontrunners, and then there are the candidates trying to break in to that elite club, like Republican Mike Huckabee. He's an ordained Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas. He has conservative credentials, and he performed well enough in recent debates to get some appearances on cable news channels.

Unidentified Man #1: And in just a moment we'll go to a presidential candidate on the Republican side who's been getting some strong reviews...

Unidentified Woman: Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee joins me now live...

Unidentified Man#2: He may not be leading the Republican pack of presidential candidates right now, but given Mike Huckabee's getting a lots of ink and lot so TV time.

MONTAGNE: Still, Mike Huckabee remains in low single digits in most Republican polls.

NPR's David Greene tells us what's giving him optimism.

DAVID GREENE: Mike Huckabee comes from a place in Arkansas called Hope. And if you ask him why he's sticking it out, he likes to bring up another famous guy from Hope.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Arkansas Governor; Republican Presidential Hopeful): One of the things Bill Clinton did right was show patience and perseverance.

GREENE: Huckabee and Clinton are not political soul mates, but Huckabee says he sees Clinton's campaign as a model. For the longest time, Clinton was mostly known for one infamous speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. Clinton went on so long, that when he finally uttered these words...

President BILL CLINTON: In closing...

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: The crowd gave him an ovation. Early in his presidential run, he was still being mocked for that performance and stuck in single digits in the polls. But as 1992 began, he persisted and finally caught fire with voters. Now Huckabee admits it won't be easy to follow suit. In an interview yesterday, he said he's behind in fundraising and the news media's anointed three frontrunners: Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

Huckabee said he also knows a fellow Southerner, Fred Thompson, is likely jumping in the race soon.

Mr. HUCKABEE: But whether or not he's going to, you know, suddenly suck all the oxygen out of the room, I don't know. I tend to think that his greatest zenith is going to happen in the days between now and the day that he actually announces.

GREENE: All it takes for a leading candidate to fall, Huckabee said, is one misstep that shows up on Jon Stewart or YouTube. He said he feels like he's a NASCAR driver knowing somebody will wreck.

Mr. HUCKABEE: So what I have to do is to keep four tires on the track and be prepared when those in front of me collapse or crash - be prepared to make the move.

GREENE: And if he does make the move, he said, voters will like what they see.

Mr. HUCKABEE: A conservative, pro-life, pro-family, pro-Second Amendment, somebody who regionally comes from the part of the nation that is an important part for a GOP win, somebody also who has executive experience, 10 and a half years as a governor, having run something and getting things done. I fit all the criteria that people really look for and even need in a Republican nominee for president.

GREENE: Huckabee's events are not big draws. Last week, he stopped at a small factory in New Hampshire that builds robots used by the military. He bumped into 61-year-old Sharon Griswa(ph).

Mr. HUCKABEE: I would ask what you're working on, but I was told that if you tell me then I have to be killed. But I want to ask.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHARON GRISWA (Factory Worker): You'll be killed, or us?

Mr. HUCKABEE: I would be.

Ms. GRISWA: Yeah. We're going to go together?

Mr. HUCKABEE: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUCKABEE: I'm not ready to go yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Griswa said she liked Huckabee from the moment he shook her hand.

Ms. GRISWA: He's got a heart in there that's - it's a good heart.

GREENE: How could you tell that from a handshake?

Ms. GRISWA: It's just the way this - a person shakes your hand. Someone that doesn't care does not shake your hand. They pass their palm. That's not a handshake. That's like, I got to do this, don't get my hand dirty.

GREENE: She said if Huckabee keeps doing visits like this, he's got at least a shot.

Ms. GRISWA: The old grassroots politicking goes a lot further than the TV, the computer, all of that. You can't believe what you see on the computer.

GREENE: When you leave here today, are you going to tell some friends about Governor Huckabee or...

Ms. GRISWA: Yeah. What, you know, I'll them what he said and how I felt about the whole - definitely, I mean, we'll go back and we'll talk about it.

GREENE: Another employee, Mike Lafan(ph), said he hadn't heard of Huckabee, but he liked his first encounter.

So what would it take for you to get fully behind Huckabee and say, you know, get - put a t-shirt on and volunteer and go that far?

Mr. MIKE LAFAN (Factory Worker): I think just getting more information on him and finding out a little bit more about him.

GREENE: But Lafan said he wouldn't wager a bet on him. It takes so much money to run for president, and the election process is so accelerated, he said. Second-tier candidates just don't have the cash or the time to get their names out. So he said maybe Huckabee should just lay the groundwork for 2012. And Lafan said he had to work.

Mr. LAFAN: Oh, yeah. I got things I have to do. I'm running a machine today, so nice to talking to you.

GREENE: No doubt, Huckabee had to get back to work, too.

David Greene, NPR News.

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