Huck’s Path to Front-Runner-Hood

Some analyses of Mike Huckabee’s potential 2016 presidential campaign pretty much begin and end with Iowa, where he won in 2008 and would have to be considered the very early favorite in that state again (particularly if he has, as I suspect he does, the tacit support of David Lane’s network of conservative evangelical ministers–of whom he is of course a member himself). But then what?

Well, it just so happens the calendar’s aligning in Huck’s favor, as noted by RealClearPolitics’ Scott Conroy:

After Iowa comes New Hampshire—a state where the more moderate and secular Republican primary electorate is ill-suited for Huckabee.

In 2008, Huckabee decided to compete anyway in the Granite State, and his somewhat respectable yet distant third-place showing there slowed the momentum he had generated in Iowa….

“I would have him go straight from Iowa to South Carolina,” said one Huckabee confidant who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the prospective candidate’s strategic thinking.

Assuming Mitt Romney—who won Nevada in both 2008 and 2012—does not enter the 2016 race, that state will be up for grabs, and Huckabee’s aides believe he is well-positioned to compete there. One reason is that Nevada hosts a caucus rather than a primary—a restrictive format conducive to strong turnout from the kinds of deeply committed backers that Huckabee tends to attract, though it figures for that reason to be perhaps even more advantageous to Rand Paul.

The higher profile first-in-the-South primary in South Carolina indeed remains a particularly enticing prize for Huckabee, who finished in a close second place to John McCain there in 2008….

But Huckabee’s most valuable trump card in the entire 2016 calendar comes on March 1 when officials from five states in the heart of the former Confederacy—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee—are taking steps toward hosting what would effectively become a Super Southern Primary.

In 2008, Huckabee was the victor in each of those southern states except for Mississippi, which held its primary a week after he dropped out of the race.

Ah, yes, a Huck sprint from Iowa to South Carolina and then to the “SEC Primary” would give him a series of opportunities to win in states with the requisite large conservative evangelical vote–and just as importantly, to croak some rivals on the Right. If, for example, Perry, Cruz and Jindal are all gone, you’d have to figure Huck would have an angle on Bush and Paul or some colorless midwestern figure–in and beyond the South. Huck advisers will never forget that a last gasp bid in South Carolina by Fred Thompson in 2008 almost certainly kept their guy from dealing a deadly blow to John McCain that might have created a Romney/Huckabee fight to the finish. So it’s all about edging opponents into the ditch in the early going. That will take a lot of money, and skeptics rightly wonder if Huck is just one of those pols who cannot handle the “ask.” If he’s learned how to pass the plate for the big bux since 2008, he definitely does have a plausible path to the nomination.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.