Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Rise and Rise of Mike Huckabee (part 3 of 3)

Mike Huckabee was an overlooked 2nd tier Republican candidate. While other midcard candidates had claims to fame that were policy related (Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo - strong on immigration, Ron Paul - Anti war). Mike's claim to fame was his remarkable weight loss, losing over 110 pounds which he chronicled in his book, "Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork: A 12-Stop Program to End Bad Habits and Begin a Healthy Lifestyle". At first glance this may seem like an inconsequential qualification for a person seeking America's highest office. To the contrary. This marked only the beginning Huckabee's campaign, rising from a midcarder to front-running Presidential candidate.

As I detailed in post 2 of 3, appearance counts. Having the right look doesn't apply only to wrestling, it also matters when running for President. Even Al Gore, a sure favourite if he were to throw his hat in the ring cannot escape questions about his would-be presidential appearance. Diane Sawyer once pointedly asked of Gore
“Donna Brazile, your former campaign manager, has said, ‘If he drops 25 to 30 pounds, he’s running.’ Lost any weight?”.

Gore despite enjoying great popularity with his role as Nobel Prize winning environmentalist has his chances of Presidency tethered to his appearance. Read Maureen Dowd's op-ed for more on Gore's appearance. This is the reason why Mike Huckabee's weight loss was not only a significant personal triumph but also a necessary precaution in his bid for presidency.

Whether you're a Presidential candidate or a wrestler, appearance will distinguish you from a contender to a champion.
randy orton muscly skinny contender champion
mike huckabee fat skinny thin presidential

Another thing Mike Huckabee had to work on was his gimmick. Mike is an affable person, a noted public speaker with considerable charisma. An ordained Southern Baptist minister and musician. All the ingredients for a likeable personality but not the name ID or corporate/media backing to get him noticed. Huckabee had to tweak his gimmick, he played to his strength as a "hipper alternative" by getting endorsements from ironically cool celebrities like Action Star Chuck Norris and wrestling great Ric Flair. Mike appeared in a series of ads with Chuck Norris which gave him great exposure outside of political news and was a successful viral campaign online.

The ads were often corny, but Chuck was a compelling endorser that raised Huckabee's profile and likability

To balance this playful side, Huckabee has also effectively cornered the evangelical base of the party by using language and rhetoric that appeals to that audience. Mike has been wooing Evangelical voters using the same viral techniques that served him well in the Chuck Norris campaign. The Washington Post describes a mailing list Mike has tapped into, loosely affiliated with Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, read full article here.

A series of religion based videos have been circulating online that play to Mike's religious base:

Mike explaining the Divine help he's getting in the polling

Mike parodies the phone call fellow Frontrunner Rudy Giuliani received mid speech

You will notice I have not credited any of Huckabee's policies or policy shifts to the success of his campaign. Like a wrestler who elevates to championship status, wrestling ability doesn't need to be compromised. Whilst ring technique can be important to some purists, to the large majority of casual fans the appearance of ability is all that is expected. The same follows in politics, policy wonks will argue over the finer points but effective spin can win over casual observers.

When a wrestler tweaks their gimmick, they don't adopt a whole new arsenal of moves. That would be impractical as the wrestler is limited to what they already know. They simply rename their existing set of moves and perhaps add a few embellishments. The same goes for Presidential Candidates. They won't adopt new policies or turn their back on their history completely. They will simply dress up existing policies with new titles and spin to suit their evolved persona.

Mike was often a standout in debates, even when his name ID was low. Huckabee is known for his mic work and for being an exceptional retail politician. This was amplified once he raised his profile. Mike has risen through the ranks using a combination of marketing savvy and genuine charisma. From streamlining his appearance, to using effective gimmickry to capture attention and finally securing voter confidence through his charm. He has risen to the top by effectively using the playbook from wrestling. Its only fitting that he is endorsed by one of the most beloved wrestlers of all time.

Read 'The Rise and Rise of Mike Huckabee' Part 1 of 3
Read 'The Rise and Rise of Mike Huckabee' Part 2 of 3

Find "Huckamania!" posters here and newer ones here.


Bob McCarty Writes said...

Much of the political world’s attention in recent days has been focused upon Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama and how he might benefit from the so-called “Oprah Effect.” Conversely, little attention has been paid to the impact of the “Okra Effect” on Mike Huckabee -- that is, until now.

During the last weekend of September, Republican presidential candidates traveled to Irmo, S.C., to participate in the Okra Strut, an event described in a article as “a parade and festival celebrating the slimy green vegetable so beloved in the South.”

While some might scoff at the notion of the Okra Effect, I do not. Why not? Because I’ve analyzed events that have transpired during the two and a half months since the Okra Strut took place.

For instance, the above-referenced article, among other things, included a statement that Rudy Giuliani was looking at South Carolina as a springboard to win Florida on Jan. 29. Apparently, the former New York City mayor’s board has lost some of its spring since then as Real Clear Politics shows Rudy leading the Palmetto State GOP race in only one of five polls.

The article included a mention of Fred Thompson as a native Southerner, popular actor, and former senator from Tennessee, is aiming to jump-start his campaign by sweeping the South, with South Carolina a virtual must-win. And he's still waiting. A Real Clear Politics poll average today shows Thompson in a virtual third-place tie with Giuliani.

Mitt Romney was said to have spent more time and money in the state than Giuliani. After spending that much money (and missing the Okra Strut due to a brief illness), the former Massachusetts governor finds himself mired in second place.

And, finally, the article gave mention to Mike Huckabee as a Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor who has drawn some excitement from evangelicals and conservative activists, but remains far back in the polls and fund-raising. Since then, however, Huckabee has surged into first place in South Carolina.

An Associated Press article four days ago might help explain his rise in popularity.

Huckabee is quoted as saying, "Carrots. I just don't like carrots. I banned them from the governor's mansion when I was governor of Arkansas because I could." Nowhere in the article, however, does one find Huckabee expressing any disdain for the slimy green vegetable to which he might owe his success.

That's why, I think it's safe to conclude, that this one-time long-shot candidate does indeed owe his success to something -- most likely, the Okra Effect.

I won't be surprised if his campaign rallies begin to feature segments during which throngs of Huckabee supporters chant a new slogan, "ALL HAIL OKRA!™"

punditfight said...

ok i'll bite