Jonathan Alter has an outstanding piece on Huckabee today in Newsweek magazine:
The GOP is in a deep hole and keeps digging. Even after Mike Huckabee won big among attendees at last week's "Values Voters Convention," many evangelicals have been telling the former Arkansas governor—and onetime Baptist minister—that they like him but won't back him because he can't beat Hillary Clinton. They have it exactly backward. He may be the only Republican candidate with a decent chance to beat the Democrats next November.
Huckabee? Yes, Huckabee.
His only hope is that party leaders come to their senses and recognize that he's their best bet.
Huckabee comes across more hopeful than Giuliani, more believable than Romney, more intelligent than Thompson and fresher than McCain. He would hold the base and capture moderates drawn to his down-home style. His greatest asset is that he alone among the Republicans "speaks American." He connects to his audience with stories and metaphors and a geniality that can't be faked. "I'm conservative but I'm not angry about it," he likes to say, and it's true; his gentle mocking of the intraparty warfare that broke out during the Fox debate—likening it to a "demolition derby"—confirms the point. This was Reagan's secret, and it worked for Huckabee in Arkansas, where he won the votes of independents and Democrats.
The rap on Huckabee is that while he can speak fluently on global affairs, he has no foreign-policy chops. But that might be an advantage in November. Because he lacks Washington experience, Huckabee is the GOP candidate least tied to Iraq, which will remain an albatross for any Republican. And unless you believe 9/11 "changed everything" for American voters (if so, how do you explain 2006?), this election may revert to the norm, which means an emphasis on pocketbook issues. In the Detroit debate on the economy earlier this month, only Huckabee spoke with any passion about the millions of voters left out of the economic expansion. It's trendy now for Republicans to talk about their fiscal principles, but belt-tightening and fealty to Wall Street have never won a presidential election.
Voters in general elections are less ideological than in primaries and more intrigued by a compelling personal narrative. Huckabee's story hits closer to home than any other. After chest pains and a diagnosis of diabetes, he lost more than 100 pounds with diet and exercise. He tells the story with wit and grace (as well as the one about his wife's cancer diagnosis many years ago) and would kill on Oprah. When Huckabee talks about broader health-care issues he does more than brag about Arkansas's success under his leadership. He speaks in a folksy and comprehensible way that would match up well against Hillary's facts and figures or Obama's abstractions. The same holds true on education; his support for large-scale federal support of art and music programs to improve creativity (and thus competitiveness in the global economy) would resonate with millions of voters.
Even on faith and politics, Mike is easy to like. From afar he seemed extreme because he raised his hand in a debate when the candidates were asked en masse if they believed in intelligent design. But when Bill Maher pressed him to justify that view on his HBO show, Huckabee responded with a nuanced and presentable discussion of the origins of the universe that seemed to pacify even the atheist host. (I found this as well when we discussed the subject some months ago.) He has surely said some wacky right-wing things that could be used against him, but no more than any of the others in the Republican field.
The stridency of today's GOP has blinded the party to the context of this election, which is Bush fatigue. No wonder all the Democrats are using some variation of the line "The era of cowboy diplomacy is over." It is. And the least cowboyish and bombastic Republican will have the best chance a year from now to win the White House. That's Mike Huckabee.