No Huckabee; Now What?

HOWARD MEGDAL: The exit of Mike Huckabee from the 2012 GOP race has huge ramifications. Arguably, no candidate or potential candidate had a broader hold on the likely GOP electorate as Huckabee.

Consider the groups Huckabee could claim as his own: southerners, evangelicals, Iowans. Who else can come close? Not only that, but all three groups are solidly in the anti-Romney camp, as we learned in 2008.

That last salient fact is what Huckabee’s exit is likely to mean. Put simply, there’s probably a plurality of voters, if not a majority, now up for grabs in the anti-Romney camp. Among those in the race, like Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, etc., only Pawlenty can make a realistic play for evangelicals. And no one has a real shot at the southern bloc (no, Newt, especially not you).

Will it be Sarah Palin? Will Herman Cain become viable? It is hard to imagine someone doesn’t step up. But for Mitt Romney, who needs everything to go just right to steal the nomination from a party that doesn’t much like him, Huckabee’s exit was a big piece of the puzzle.

CHRIS PUMMER: Should Republicans fail to win the presidency in 2012, Mike Huckabee’s legend will grow to Ty Cobb-sized proportions. He’ll always be the guy who could have beaten Barack Obama, just like some insisted Cobb could have belted a home run every time up at the plate if he weren’t so happy slapping singles all over the baseball field. Huck will keep spraying his hits around Fox News programs and the convention circuit.

Obviously what would have happened had Huckabee stayed in the race is more complicated, but without a doubt the GOP field didn’t just lose its favorite to grab the nomination, but realistically its best potential candidate.

A long-serving governor still popular in his home state, Huckabee wasn’t burdened by the baggage other candidates are carrying into this primary. Maybe his most compelling quality, even for those unsatisfied with his record, was his willingness to stand behind it.

Huckabee has even made earned his reputation as the voice of Obama’s “loyal opposition” with his hits against the administration’s policy that don’t descend into the lunacy that seems to be boiling over in tea party circles.

In other words, Huckabee had the resume, reputation and charisma to go toe-to-toe with Obama, no mater what direction the fickle economic winds might yet blow the mood of the electorate.

The other candidates vying for the opportunity? Not so much.

With his exit, Huckabee might have done Romney the biggest possible favor. Not only was he Romney’s strongest potential foe in the Republican primary, but that charisma of his was unique in its power to hold together his coalition of supporters. Nobody else in the field is capable of keeping that bloc of voters together, and that very well could have been what it will take to halt Romney.

In the meantime, Huckabee will continue on with his media ventures. From that lofty and well-paid perch, he might still be one of the strongest voices in GOP politics.

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