Remember the guy who was goaded by Rick Mercer into congratulating Canada on preserving its National Igloo? That was Mike Huckabee, and he’s running for president. And as of Saturday, he is no longer a minor footnote in the Republican field.
Huckabee, 51, is a formerly obese former Republican governor of Arkansas who could barely climb the state house stairs until a diabetes diagnosis spurred him to lose more than 100 lb. He began running marathons, banning soda machines in schools and sending kids home with report cards on their body mass index. But until recently, his underdog bid for the presidency received less national media attention than a report that Rudy Giuliani’s wife Judith’s Louis Vuitton handbag gets its own seat on private jets.
All that changed on Saturday at the straw poll in Ames, Iowa—a ritual in which 14,302 Iowa Republicans came together to say who they like best at this stage of the game (this stage being still five months before the Iowa caucuses and 15 months before election day). Huckabee surged from three per cent in the national polls to second place in Ames with 18 per cent of the vote, although, granted, front-runner Rudy Giuliani and John McCain did not participate, and Fred Thompson has not formally entered the race.
The straw poll was former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s to lose, and he spent millions of dollars securing his winning 31.5 per cent. But Huckabee’s surprise leapfrogging other candidates had him proclaimed the “real” winner.
The buzz is that Huckabee could fill the void for social conservatives dissatisfied with the top tier candidates. A former pastor and head of a religious TV station, Huckabee supports teaching creationism alongside evolution, and opposes abortion, gay marriage and civil unions. But it’s opposition to illegal immigration that is galvanizing the party base, and he supports giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship. Squaring that circle could prove tougher than losing 100 lb. M
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.