Posted: January 19, 2008 6:15 PM
In Close Contest, Huckabee Hits States Rights, Populist Themes
Looking to stay in the top tier of Republican candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is stressing his blue collar economic message, but it was his comments about the controversial Confederate flag that raised eyebrows and drew media attention.
Huckabee, who rode the support of evangelical Christians to a victory in Iowa, hopes to garner their support in South Carolina as well, where they make up a sizeable portion of Republican voters.
But looking to expand his pool of support, Huckabee has been stressing his own story as a firefighter’s son who was the first to graduate high school.
“I am not that unusual,” Huckabee told supporters, “I am a guy over 50 looking for a job. … I want to be the voice of the people who do serve the food and drive the trucks.”
He spoke of his humble background, but also said the voices of most people are not heard in Washington.
“A lot of Americans wonder, does government understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck?” The New York Times quoted Huckabee as telling a crowd in Spartanburg, noting that the state had hit its highest unemployment rate in years. “Do the people who live in the special bubble of the rarefied air of Washington, D.C., do they truly understand?”
Despite the focus of the campaign on South Carolina’s troubled economy, many of the articles coming out in the final days of the campaign had to do with his take on the ongoing debate over the state flying the former rebel battle flag over the state capital.
It started with Huckabee’s statement that it should be up to South Carolina to decide what to do about the flag.
“You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag,” CBS quoted Huckabee as saying in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Thursday. “In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell ‘em what to do with the pole, that’s what we’d do.”
Huckabee’s response prompted a last-second radio ad from a group that wants to protect the flag.
“Governor Huckabee understands that all the average guy with a Confederate flag on his pickup truck is saying is he’s proud to be a Southerner,” the ad states. “Mike Huckabee understands we value our heritage and why.”
The group takes aim at both Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Mitt Romney, both of whom have said they feel the flag should not be flown. Ron Wilson, who helped raise money for the ads and is a past commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the AP that “We have no connection with his campaign whatsoever … We’re interested in knocking off McCain.”
It remained unclear how, if at all, the conflagration around the Confederate banner will affect the vote outcome, but regardless of whether Huckabee will come out of South Carolina wounded or with renewed momentum, his plans are already set for Sunday.
Huckabee and his Capitol Offense band, will be at martial arts star Chuck Norris’ ranch in Texas for a fundraising barbeque — the Raise Big Bucks for Huck event.