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It has been dubbed the "Huckaboom," this surge in opinion polls by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. The former Southern Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor has jumped to the front of the pack in Iowa with a friendly face, affable personality and quick wit that distinguish him from the slick Mitt Romney or the sharp-elbowed Rudy Giuliani. But moving from dark horse to front-runner brings more scrutiny, and a closer look at Huckabee's record should give mainstream voters pause about his extreme views, questionable judgment and lack of vision on foreign affairs.
Huckabee, who attributes his rise in the polls to divine intervention, cloaks his conservative social values in a soft blanket of reassuring rhetoric that hides the rough edges. He strongly opposes the constitutional right to an abortion and as governor refused to approve a Medicaid payment for an abortion for a 15-year-old whose stepfather had been charged with incest - even though the payment was required by federal law. He is not just a vocal opponent of gay marriage; he has opposed gays in the military and called homosexuality "an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle."
The narrow-mindedness extends beyond abortion and gay rights. As an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 1992, Huckabee advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public and has not retracted that statement. In that same campaign, he opposed using women in combat or giving workers unpaid time off for the birth of a child or health issues - a year before Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act. He still supports teaching creationism in the public schools.
These are not the views of a mainstream presidential candidate capable of building broad support in a general election.
Questions about Huckabee's judgment extend well beyond social issues. As Arkansas governor, he pressured the state parole board to let convicted rapist Wayne DuMond out of prison despite pleas from the victim and other women who said they also had been sexually assaulted by DuMond. But the teen-aged victim was Bill Clinton's distant cousin, DuMond claimed to have been "born again," and the case had become a cause for religious conservatives. The year after his release, DuMond killed another woman in Missouri.
While Huckabee now argues no one could have predicted DuMond would strike again, he has yet to fully explain his role in DuMond's release and why he ignored the man's considerable violent criminal history.
More questions also need to be asked about what Huckabee's policies would be as president. He embraces the radical idea of replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax, which would shift more of the tax burden to the poor. He is virtually a blank slate on foreign policy and claimed he had not heard of the intelligence report that concluded Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons programs - more than a day after the report was released and all over the news. A top-tier presidential candidate should be better prepared and more engaged in the world around him.
His disarming nature and quickness with a quip does not let Huckabee off the hook for the sort of flip-flopping and digs at opponents that other candidates have been called on. He once supported ending the economic embargo on Cuba; now he supports it and has won the endorsement of state House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami. During the St. Petersburg debate, he eloquently defended his efforts as governor to help the children of illegal immigrants attend college. Now his new immigration plan calls for all 12-million illegal immigrants to immediately register with the government and leave the country within 120 days. That is a remarkable reversal in tone, and it is closer to blatant demagoguery than realistic policy.
But Huckabee is not above such pandering. He and his supporters have been sending signals to religious conservatives in Iowa that Romney is not one of them because the former Massachusetts governor is a Mormon. Huckabee apologized this week for musing in a New York TimesMagazine article to be published Sunday, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" The answer is no, but the seeds of suspicion and discrimination were planted.
For months, Huckabee was the nice guy to the side of the Republican stage who lost more than 100 pounds, played bass guitar and relied on his preaching skills to tell a good story. Now he has moved to the front in Iowa and opened campaign offices in Florida. Serious candidates for president require closer scrutiny, and Huckabee's record in Arkansas, an overt mix of religion in government policy and a fuzzy vision for the country's role in the world raise serious questions about his fitness for the White House.
[Last modified December 17, 2007, 09:06:09]