Can Mike Huckabee Win The Religious Vote This Time Around? He Might Need To Rethink His 2016 Strategy

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has officially entered the race. On Tuesday, Huckabee announced that he would be seeking a 2016 White House bid, joining a rapidly growing field of GOP contenders, including former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and previous Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, both of whom announced their intentions earlier in the week. With all the fanfare surrounding Huckabee's announcement though, many have expressed worries he just isn't the political heavyweight he once was — more importantly, they predict that Huckabee won't be able to win the religious vote a second time around.

The governor's first failed bid in 2008 was a vastly different competition, as The New York Times pointed out on Tuesday. During his first run, Huckabee profited off of the shortcomings of his fellow Republicans, John McCain and Mitt Romney, who suffered from being too moderate and too Mormon, respectively. This time around, the field has changed. With far right Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the son of an evangelical pastor, and party favorite Scott Walker, the son of both a pastor and a Sunday school teacher, likely present in this year's running, Huckabee will have a difficult time carving out his own niche. It used to be enough to simply say, "I'm the religious candidate!" Now, Huckabee will have to prove why his brand of Christianity is more worthy of a partisan vote than his GOP opponents.

"[Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee] share the same core base, so I do think there's probably only room for one of them to be successful," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told The National Journal in October 2014. "Frankly I'm not sure there's going to be much time for anybody else to get in, because I do think you're going to see conservatives very possibly coalesce around a candidate fairly early in the process."

Already, Huckabee is doing his best to stand out from the homogeneous crowd. In an April interview with Iowa radio talk show host Jan Mickelson, Huckabee suggested that eager young men and women should abstain from joining military ranks until the next president took office in response to a Washington Times article that suggested that the military was increasingly making life difficult for good Christian soldiers:

This administration has had an open hostility toward the Christian faith. [It has ordered] its chaplains to put [their] Bibles away, not to pray in Jesus' name, not to counsel people on the issues of sexual morality. When you have this attitude that is more about promoting gay marriage and gay rights in the military than it is about being able to protect religious liberty for those people of faith, it's going to be hard to find people that are truly devoted people of faith and Christian believers and Orthodox Jews and others.
Why would they want to be in a military that would be openly hostile and not just simply bring some scorn to their faith, but would punish them for it? I'd wait a couple of years until we get a new commander-in-chief that will once again believe 'one nation under God' and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country.

In September last year, Huckabee also suggested that American voters were responsible for "[firing government employees] ones who refuse to hear not only [the religious right's] hearts, but God’s heart." It may have been simply for show, but his punches landed exactly where he wanted them to for a time.

Huckabee supporters are quick to note the difference between the former governor and his opponents. After a recent Council for National Policy conference, one event organizer likened speakers Cruz and Huckabee to opposing preachers vying for a chorus of impassioned "Amens".

"Cruz was like a hyper lawyer roaming the stage and making a factual argument to a jury," the anonymous employee told The National Journal. "Huckabee was like a friendly preacher speaking from the pulpit and appealing to emotion — two totally different styles."

Despite his perceived theocratic leanings, with the GOP trending to the right end of spectrum in recent months, Huckabee's casual likeability may actually be a detriment. Some have even accused the Fox show host entering the race simply to sell more of his book, Gods, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, which debuted in January to tepid acclaim (The Los Angeles Times called it a "morally superior," "my-side-is-better-than-yours" partisan spike).

With unease over a potential Huckabee candidacy on both sides of the GOP scale and a rallying religious fervor for candidates like the far right Cruz and the virulently pro-life Walker, the former Arkansas governor, once beloved by Christian voters, will need more than just luck this time around — he'll need to re-craft his strategy.

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