Move over Mitt Romney: Mike Huckabee thinks all the early evidence suggests he, not the former Massachusetts governor, is the Republican Party’s presidential front-runner.
During an interview with National Journal, Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, pointed to a bevy of polls that reported he had the most support in the field of possible candidates, even in states that aren’t brimming with the kind of evangelical voters who have constituted his base before.
“I think people would have to look at all the polls [that] are taken and draw their own conclusions,” said Huckabee, in Washington on Wednesday to promote his new book. “It’d be a little presumptuous to say I’m the front-runner.”
He added, “But I can read.”
Most pundits point to Romney as the “next guy in line” for the GOP, mostly because of his vast personal wealth and business background seemingly calibrated to appeal to voters worried about the economy. But it was Huckabee, not Romney, who finished with the second-most delegates in the 2008 primaries behind the nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a fact that Huckabee said “a lot of people get wrong” to his dismay.
“If I chose to get in, it absolutely is my turn,” he said.
Huckabee is correct that most polls report him in front of his prospective rivals: A just-released Gallup Poll shows him in a statistical dead heat with Romney and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The poll of more than 1,300 voting age Republicans conducted earlier this month gives Huckabee 18 percent of the vote while Palin and Romney each clock in with 16 percent. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points. Huckabee also seems well positioned to win several early states like Iowa and South Carolina, which contain many social conservatives who flock to Huckabee.
Hindering the perception of his chances, however, is widespread pessimism that he will actually run, concerns no one has for potential rivals like Romney or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. And on this count, Huckabee did little to clarify his position, saying only to a group of reporters earlier in the day that he’s “seriously contemplating” a candidacy. He also admitted that the amount of wealth he’s accumulated since the 2008 election, which landed him a TV show on Fox News and made him a celebrity in the conservative movement, makes declaring a candidacy and severing ties with new those income sources more difficult.
But the man who shockingly won the 2008 Iowa GOP caucus clearly has thought about what his candidacy and the race for the nomination would look like. Among his observations:
- Concerns that he hasn’t declared his candidacy yet are “comical,” he said, noting no other contender has either. “To say I have to make a decision anytime in the next two months, is to me not based on anything that I can find clarity for. Doesn’t make sense why anyone would do that.”
- The governor said declaring early is actually a tactical mistake, because it means the candidate will have to fund the expensive infrastructure necessary to run a campaign for longer than necessary. “People who go out early, I’m convinced, are going to have a hard time going the distance,” he said. “It’ll be like a marathon runner who runs 10 miles before the race starts and then he’s gotta start running the 26.2.”
- Unlike in 2008, Huckabee sees himself as more than just the choice of social conservatives. “I think maybe four years ago, it would have been fair to say my base of support was evangelical conservatives,” he said. “But that no longer is the case. It’s much broader now.”
- Huckabee says reaction to his new book, A Simple Government, will help him decide whether he runs for president. The tour it will take him on, not surprisingly, makes plenty of stops in Iowa.
- The former governor doesn’t mind ruffling conservatives' feathers every once in a while, as he admitted several times during the interview. Huckabee, in fact, might have gotten his most passionate defending first lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to combat childhood obesity. Criticism of her is “reflexive,” and not thought out, said Huckabee, who has publicly battled his weight himself.
Video by Theresa Poulson contributed to this article.