As I approached the Concourse Hotel in Madison this morning, I noticed something strange. Parking spots. A major presidential candidate was speaking here this morning, and there were empty parking spots right across the street. There may have been even more had the Huckabus not been taking up three of them.
Huckabee faces an impossible road in the Republican primary. John McCain will be the GOP nominee, yet Huckabee soldiers on with little money and no chance. As the Robbie Fulks song says, he’s “forgotten but not gone.”
Yet one of the reasons Huckabee is still standing is his preternatural speaking ability – which is why I was excited to go see him. The hotel banquet room at the Concourse is about half full when I roll in. I eyeball the crowd and put it between 150 and 200 people. (Later, Wispolitics.com would estimate the crowd at 500, which I think is wildly overstated.)
A couple of Huckabee’s campaign workers circle the room. Having worked dozens of campaigns myself, it’s easy to spot a campaign worker. They always have an ill-fitting suit that probably actually looked good when the campaign started – yet months of late nights and junk food have shrunk it two sizes. They have sunken eyes, the complexion of chalk, and no will to live.
Some unidentifiable country music begins to play in the background. Country music and Republican politics now, unfortunately, go hand-in-hand like cheese curds and ranch dressing. After about two songs, I call my sister to make sure we’re actually not married.
I ran into Steve Eggleston, who got some much-deserved national publicity for his post pointing out that McCain only needed 24 percent of the vote from here on out to win the nomination.
One of the things I notice about the event is the lack of security. There are a couple guys talking into their sleeves, but no pat downs or coat checks on the way in. I chat with a reporter and we agree that we shouldn’t check the polls to see who’s winning the race, we just need to figure out how many secret service people are assigned to each campaign. Huckabee’s lack of security detail befitted his long-shot status.
One of the down sides of the New York Giants beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl is that it allows Huckabee to stand up and compare his situation to that of the underdog Giants. Apparently, Huckabee used this talking point in a Wisconsin speech yesterday, and it went over like a lead balloon. He had likely forgotten that the Giants had beaten the Packers in the NFC Championship game, which is still a sore subject in the Dairy State. He should have focused on a more pleasant topic, like incest.
Huckabee hits the stage, introduced by Tim Michels – who reportedly ran for something once. Apparently, there\’s evidence on the internet of this. Michels says that while talk radio has gone after Huckabee for not being conservative, Huckabee has been endorsed by the Minutemen. Well, that settles it.
Huckabee starts his speech with a smart move – by appealing to Wisconsin’s desire for national press. He says that if McCain wins, Wisconsin will be forgotten – yet if Wisconsin goes to Huckabee, the national press will blather on about the Badger State ad nauseam. There’s nothing Wisconsin residents crave more than positive press about their state. There seems to be a burning desire to be nationally relevant – and for reasons other than people having sex with corpses.
Huckabee went on to tell a story about singing the National Anthem at Lambeau Field during the 2004 Bush campaign. I stood near the back of the room, which made me feel suspiciously like Travis Bickle at a Palantine rally. Fortunately, my mohawk has grown back in.
He uses his big applause line about how he wants to get rid of the IRS (it might actually be easier to pass a bill through Congress that eliminates the letters “I,” “R,” and “S” from the English language). He indicates his support for a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn. When making a point about protecting life, he begins to cite the Declaration of Independence – obviously about to reference the guarantee of “life.” On the way to that point, he says “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” and some woman begins clapping wildly by herself. Apparently, she was a big fan of Self-Evidence. Woo! Huckabee ignored her and made his way to the intended applause line.
When discussing valuing human life, Huckabee used an example that I thought was really good. He pointed out that in the field of battle, our soldiers go out of their way to save their wounded comrades, because we do value life so much. That contrasted nicely with his portrayal of militant Islam, who sends children out to die for the cause. I hadn’t heard the whole sanctity of life argument posed that way before, and thought it was a nice touch.
Huckabee pointed out that he was the first male in his bloodline to graduate from high school. I never understood how this was an effective talking point. Should be give politicians credit for the fact that their family members are uneducated? Should I be ashamed that my father is a lawyer? Wait – don’t answer that.
The applause dies down as Huckabee goes on, until he gets to immigration, which perks the crowd up. He then introduces a 14-year old kid who claims to have made 1,000 calls on Huckabee’s behalf. The crowd oohs and ahhhs, while I cringe. How does this kid not have time to do regular 14-year old kid stuff? Buy that kid a Playstation. Obviously, his family didn’t get the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition this week – that little guy would have spent more time in the bathroom than on the phone.
The single most asked question of Huckabee these days is “why are you still in the race?” But when you see the flood of press that still follows him around, you can understand why. When is Mike Huckabee going to ever have a national stage like this again? Politicians like to be heard – why wouldn’t Huckabee keep talking as long as the media are paying attention?
In closing, Huckabee has said he’s staying around until the convention. Someone call Mitt Romney and ask how that promise went.