Huckabee: Don’t Forget Me
By: Mike Allen
February 23, 2007 10:01 AM EST
Exclusive: Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee plans to make a splash on Capitol Hill on Friday with the surprising announcement that Rep. Don Young of Alaska has signed on as congressional chairman of his Republican presidential exploratory committee.
In a letter to House Republicans, Young says Huckabee will help produce “a reawakening of the conservative values that make our country a land of opportunity.”
Huckabee, who moved out of the mansion in Little Rock in January, is rushing to catch up with the front-runners’ massive organization and plans to officially announce his candidacy in the next few months. He said in a telephone interview that the debates – including the MSNBC-Politico debate on May 3 at the Ronald Reagan Library – will be critical to his chances of breaking out.
“Best I can determine, the floor is the same level for everybody at the debates,” Huckabee said on his cell phone as he ran errands in Little Rock on Thursday. “This election will eventually become focused not just on rhetoric but the results behind the rhetoric.”
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Huckabee noted with a chuckle the disadvantages of being the front-runner this early in the campaign. “There’s only one direction you can go, and it’s not a good one,” he said.
His campaign got a critical boost in South Carolina, which has one of the earliest nominating contests, when he was endorsed earlier this month by former South Carolina first lady Iris Campbell. Her youngest son, Mike Campbell, will serve as a senior national adviser to the campaign. The late Gov. Carroll Campbell and his family played a critical role in helping Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and George W. Bush win the South Carolina primary.
Young, the third-ranking Republican in Congress, is no diplomat but he has deep personal connections with almost every member because he was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which put him in charge of massive amounts of pork.
Young said in an interview from Puerto Rico that Huckabee is “a man of character and a hell of a speaker.” Young said he’ll travel on Huckabee’s behalf. “He may be a long shot now,” Young said. “But when this settles down, people will see that a governor is best positioned to bring the country together. They have the experience of bringing the opposite sides of a legislature together. People always ask me who I think I going to win, and when I say Governor Huckabee, they say, ‘Who?’ So we just need to convince people that he’s a leader with great character.”
Also Friday, Huckabee plans to announce that Rep. John Boozman of Arkansas will be congressional co-chairman of his presidential exploratory committee. Boozman is a member of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus, and so has ties to a group of members whose support could really help Huckabee.
Boozman said in an interview that Huckabee “has a tremendous ability to communicate” and has positioned himself well as a conservative. “This thing is wide open,” Boozman said. “His greatest challenge is going to be coordinating a national campaign.”