Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Argument Huckabee Hasn't Made Yet

I was wondering the other day whether Mike Huckabee -- of whom I am not a fan -- had a demonstrated ability to win African American votes. As a Dobbs-ian economic populist with a preacher's background and strength among Evangelicals, he would seem to be the sort of Republican that might be able to bridge the gap between Republicans and African Americans. If so, one would expect that Huckabee would make a forceful argument during the primaries that he is the candidate who can 'change the game,' and bring new voters to the GOP fold.

And indeed, Huckabee has had success in Arkansas with black voters, but the degree of that success is disputed:

Huckabee maintains he drew 48 percent of the black vote in his 1998 gubernatorial bid and made key appointments of blacks to state boards and commissions.

While experts acknowledge Huckabee reached out to minorities like few other Republicans during his decade as the state’s governor, they say he may be overstating his support among black voters.

Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College, openly questions Huckabee’s 48 percent claim.

Barth said in a book he co-authored that the exit polling used to substantiate the percentage was a small sample not validated by precinct-by-precinct data...

“I stand by the fact that Huckabee did well among African-Americans,” Streb said. “Did he actually do 48 percent, which is what the exit polls show? That’s questionable.”

Barth said it’s more likely Huckabee gained 20 percent of the black vote in 1998, his first try for a full term against Democrat Bill Bristow.

Streb said Bristow was not a strong candidate, which may have contributed to Huckabee’s success among blacks.

In Huckabee’s 2002 re-election bid against Jimmie Lou Fisher, Barth said the governor’s efforts to draw black voters gave him “breathing room” in a close race...

A Southern Baptist minister, Huckabee used his religious background to build support in the black community.

Stacy Williams, a Little Rock-based political consultant, said Huckabee could easily duplicate his statewide success on a national scale.

“He breaks the traditional mold of the Republican in trying to persuade African-Americans to vote for him, and that’s what he did in Arkansas,” Williams said. “African-Americans are pretty much like anybody else; if you advertise them or target them and solicit their support, you’re going to be successful.”
According to this article, Huckabee makes the claim 'frequently.' Perhaps I'm not paying enough attention to him then, as I haven't heard it. Nevertheless, this is significant stuff. Bush got 11 percent of the African-American vote in 2004; doubling that would add about one percent to the Republican candidate's total vote. If Huckabee was the nominee, and was able to win 40 percent, it would be impossible for a Democrat to win the White House.

I'm surprised Huckabee hasn't worked harder to bring attention to this. It's the sort of 'electability' argument that could help him in the primaries.

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