At a Hartwick College tailgate party two Saturdays ago (Hartwick won another huge game that Saturday), a fellow conservative friend and I were talking. After a while, he asked me who I thought would be the candidate chosen from each party for the upcoming 2008 elections.
I tried to weasel out of the answer since I had sworn to myself not to get overly involved in all the campaign rhetoric until early next year. He went to get more food, and I thought I was off the hook. But when he came back, he continued to hold my feet to the fire.
After giving a lot of reasons and thinking about the issues, I came up with the tired old conventional choices of Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.
I was actually hoping it would be Hillary on the Democrat side, but Rudy was not my desired answer for the Republicans. He just doesn't excite me much, and I think he carries a lot of baggage that will be exploited in the general elections.
I think this election, for the first time in a very long time, will be determined by the selection of each party's running mate. I feel this is particularly true on the Republican side. The conservative base has to be brought back to the voting booths, and I don't think a Rudy nomination has the ability to do this by itself.
Way back in June, I wrote a column about Mike Huckabee, a former governor from Arkansas (he was the honest one). I thought he was a pretty impressive option and would make some serious waves before the campaign was over.
Sure enough, that is exactly what he is doing. In Iowa he has risen to second place in the polls behind Mitt Romney (27 percent to 19 percent) and is still getting stronger.
Although still significantly behind, he is rising fast in both the New Hampshire and South Carolina primary polls and has cracked 10 percent national support levels in the party for the first time in a recent Rasmussen poll.
The best part about Huckabee is his honesty, integrity and true conservative roots. He lays out his beliefs and stands on the issues and refuses to waver when speaking to different groups. He is the only true conservative in the field, both socially and fiscally, and is a person who can truly galvanize the Republican base. He is someone we conservatives have been missing for quite some time now.
It seems as though everyone who hears him speak is truly impressed. For example, Newsmax pointed out that "Huckabee finished a close second in the values voter online straw poll conducted during the Family Research Council's conference in Washington, D.C. But among the 952 people who actually attended the conference, Huckabee won in a landslide, garnering 51 percent of the votes, while Romney got just 10 percent and Giuliani, 6 percent."
It is only his lack of sufficient campaign funds that is keeping him from getting the exposure he will need in order to stay in the race. Even that is improving. While he raised only $2.1 million in all of last year, he is now raising $1 million or more each month.
He is for the death penalty, against abortion, supports the "surge" in Iraq, insists on the Pledge of Allegiance, is for the "fair tax" (another earlier column), opposes gay marriages, wants border protection to be made a priority and supports a strong military.
At the same time, he is a social conservative with a conscience. He was very active as the governor of Arkansas setting up child-obesity programs.
He increased health-insurance coverage to 70,000 Arkansas children, and he believes that the arts are just as important to our national creativity as are the sciences. He believes in the Christian idea of forgiveness and is for the granting of parole to criminals if used wisely. He also was very popular with minorities as he won 48 percent of the African-American vote in his 2002 re-election bid.
In a conversation with Michael Gerson, a Washington Post Writers Group member, Huckabee was pointing out the advantage of his pastoral background.
"There isn't a social pathology that I wouldn't be able to put a face to. I've talked with a pregnant 14-year-old who hasn't been able to tell her parents, with a 17-year-old high school student who believes he is gay and doesn't know how to break the news, with parents who have a son on life support after a motorcycle accident. "¦ It makes me a different kind of public official, not as rigid, not blind to problems."
Mike Huckabee, president? Maybe too much of an uphill climb. As to vice president? If the party has an ounce of brains, it will take a very serious look at Mike.
Tom Sears is a professor of accounting at Hartwick College in Oneonta. He can be reached at SearsT@hartwick.edu. His column appears every other week.