As a retail politician, Mike Huckabee is everything that Mitt Romney is not: warm, funny, and a natural performer.
At the Republican convention here in Tampa, where the former presidential candidate speaks on Wednesday night, he’s devised a neat formulation to sell a nominee so different in style and tone.
“Mitt Romney is Ward Cleaver,” he tells me. “He’s the dad who can sit down and in a calm, gracious voice make you want to do the right thing and pay for the window you broke with your baseball … He’s not a braggart.”
Perhaps sensing that likening the nominee to a 1950s sitcom character might not be sufficiently dramatic, Huckabee switches to a medical metaphor.
“The sicker the patient, the less important is bedside manner,” he says. “If you’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, you honestly don’t care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk. You don’t care if he has a great personality. You want to know if you’re going to cut my head open, can you get the job done?”
In this formulation, Dr. Romney is about to operate on the American economy, and who cares if Barack Obama is a much cooler guy?
Little wonder that the Romney folks want to showcase Huckabee here in Tampa, and quickly rescheduled his speech after Tropical Storm Isaac wiped out Monday’s proceedings.
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The former Arkansas governor turned Fox News commentator and radio host, who has had his speeches vetted at past conventions, marveled at how much running room he has. “I expected really tight control,” he says. “I asked: ‘Are there any limitations or parameters?’”
A Romney aide replied that “we trust you, put it in your own voice,” Huckabee recalls.
He says the campaign did not ask for changes when he submitted a draft of his remarks.
“Mitt Romney is Ward Cleaver … the dad who can sit down and in a calm, gracious voice make you want to do the right thing and pay for the window you broke with your baseball.”
During a break in his radio show, I asked Huckabee to, uh, weigh in on a New York Post headline about Chris Christie: “FAT CHANCE.” The story, denied by the New Jersey governor, says he turned down an offer to be Romney’s running mate.
Huckabee, who has struggled with his weight and written a book about dieting, laughed off the headline.
“It’s the Post,” he says. “I love it for the entertainment. The headlines are outrageously funny.” Besides, he says, “they’ve done worse.”
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