Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee loves to joke about coming from the same hometown as former President Bill Clinton. Given that they both have proven to be prone to ethical lapses in office, perhaps Huckabee -- who announced his intention to run for the Republican nomination for the presidency yesterday -- should stop trying to draw attention to his shared, humble, Arkansas roots.
Huckabee once joked that his state was a "banana republic," and he certainly appeared to run his state like one. In all, Huckabee has been investigated 14 times in 14 years for ethics violations while in public office. He's been admonished five separate times. Recently, he was criticized for registering at Target for housewarming gifts after he and his wife moved into a new home after leaving the governor's mansion.
"Huckabee likes to talk about losing more than 100 pounds, maybe he should focus on losing that Arkansas attitude about running an anything goes government," said a spokesman for a Republican opponent for the nomination who has worked with Huckabee on some issues in the past. "This is not a candidacy Republicans should be embracing."
But as the only authentic Southern Republican in the race, Huckabee, an ordained minister, is likely to garner strong support, particularly from social conservatives.
Unfortunately, Huckabee, who appeared at the National Review Institute's "conservative summit" on Sunday morning, sounded a lot like other candidates already in the race. He parroted Sen. Sam Brownback's support for a flat tax, for example.
But his track record in Arkansas doesn't reveal him to be the "authentic" conservative that he claims to be. In the past he has advocated raising taxes on Arkansans. He says he supports President Bush's position on Iraq, though sources familiar with Huckabee's thinking say that he is looking at "third ways" to propose regarding Iraq policy while on the campaign trail. As governor, he supported providing state services for illegal immigrants.
But it's his ethics lapses -- some of them minor, which only raises questions about his judgment further -- that some conservatives will find most troubling, and which Republican and Democrat challengers for the presidency will find most fruitful in attacking him, say political consultants. "Some of the stuff he's been dinged on has been a couple hundred dollars in donations, really small stuff that he just should have known better to accept," says a Democrat political consultant. "At least when the Clintons got hit, it was tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Further diminishing Huckabee's positioning? A Club for Growth report on Huckabee's tax and economic growth policies, which many expect will be embarrassing to the former governor.
Very quietly, campaign fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are reaching out to many of their bigger donors and reminding them that the Senator and her campaign have long memories. "You can't support everyone equally and expect that when the chips are down, the victor is going to remember you after election day," says one Clinton fundraiser. "Right now, in our view, it's not all right to be maxing out to Senator Obama at the same time that you claim to support Senator Clinton."
Both Clinton and Obama have set their campaigns on a collision course in the financing arena. Both have set up accounts that indicate they will not be seeking federal matching funds for their campaigns. Both are aggressively reaching out to Hollywood. Last week, left-wing movie producers Steven Spielberg and David Geffen announced plans to hold a major fundraiser for Obama in Los Angeles. They indicated they would hold a similar event for Clinton later in the year.
"Hollywood is different," says another Democrat fundraiser. "They aren't interested in getting the same things as many of our other donors are. I think the 'you're with us or you're against us' is targeted more toward business, lobbying firms and labor."
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