If Mike Huckabee's second-place finish in South Carolina seemed to rob his campaign of some momentum, it's not because the Harris twins weren't trying. The 19-year-old brothers are cofounders of Huck’s Army, a 14,000-member (and growing) grass-roots Web effort to catapult the former Arkansas governor into the White House. It was, after all, a Huck's Army e-mail that inspired actor Chuck Norris to get involved.
Home-schooled south of Portland, Ore., the evangelical teens have been organizing online since 2005, when they launched Rebelution, a youth ministry that has spawned a series of conferences and a book due out in April. They define that project as "a teenage rebellion against the low expectations of an ungodly culture." Now as Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, is forced to cut back on expenses, Brett and Alex Harris are calling on the volunteers of Huck's Army to provide the campaign with support and infrastructure. NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker recently spoke with Alex about his man's loss in South Carolina, Fred Thompson's decision to pull out of the race and what Huckabee meant when he said he wants to bring the Constitution in line with "God's standards." Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How are you feeling coming off this second-place finish in South Carolina?
Alex Harris: I definitely think it's a bump in the road. But you know what? Mitt Romney was supposed to win Iowa, but he didn't. Rudy Giuliani wasn't supposed to finish behind Ron Paul in every single race. It's the craziest race we've ever seen, and it may not even be settled after Super Tuesday.
Fred Thompson just dropped out. That must be welcome news.
That's probably the greatest news we could get. Fred Thompson appeals to a lot of the same voters, so we're hoping there will be a whole domino effect of some conservatives moving back to Huckabee.
What is it about Huckabee for you guys? The fact that he's an evangelical, or that you like his politics?
When we found out he was a Christian that was great, but his being Christian wasn't enough for us. We were looking for someone who was electable, who could bring leadership experience, has a proven track record, common sense. Being a Christian can almost be a downside if the [candidate's] not competent, because they're not going to give good testament to Christ.
Which may be why critics say Huckabee's base appears to be limited to socially conservative Christians.
The stereotype that his supporters are evangelical is driven by the mainstream media. The New York Times story on Huck's Army called us "young evangelicals," but it never mentions that our organizer in Michigan is Catholic and our organizer in South Carolina is an atheist. When ABC News was doing a piece, they said they needed us to find two young evangelical members of Huck's Army to interview. If they had just asked us for two members of Huck's Army, that would have been easy. We had trouble even thinking of two young evangelicals. The media is looking for that angle, and that has hurt Huckabee.
He has said he wants to bring the Constitution
in line with “God’s standards.”
I've heard him say that three or four times since way back in September. When he said it in Michigan it was the first time people said, "Hey, we can take this out of context." Huckabee's just saying let's amend the Constitution—a human life amendment and a traditional marriage amendment. Let's go through the normal democratic constitutional process, and if it doesn't pass, it doesn't pass.
Who is in Huck's Army?
There are liberals supporting him because they like that he wants to get energy-independent. There's room to care about the environment. The main thing with him is that he has the ability to bring to an end the partisanship, the whole paralysis that comes from that. Without the media slant on that I think people wouldn't be avoiding him just because he's an evangelical guy.
So even though you and your brother are evangelicals, you wouldn't call it an evangelical group?
We don't have any specific numbers; we're organized but we're not really an organization. I couldn't tell you the percentage. But it's definitely not just evangelicals.
As of Tuesday, the Huckabee campaign stopped arranging planes, vans, meals, hotel reservations and other services for national news organizations covering his events. Is that a worrisome sign to you?
I think they've always been very frugal. I don't think it's over until Feb. 5; then it would be more clear. They're confident and we're confident that good things can even happen in Florida on Jan. 29.
That's where you come in?
It's not as if we're a part of the campaign, but we're working to complement what the campaign is doing and fill in gaps where the campaign doesn't have resources to build the infrastructure that Mitt Romney can build with all his money.
You're 19. How did you get interested in politics?
We've been involved in politics for all our teen years, here locally in Oregon. Volunteer stuff, stuffing envelopes, going door to door. Part of our home education involved real-life stuff. That included starting our ministry, Rebelution, when we were 16. It was definitely part of the environment in which we grew up, and it wasn't just our parents. We were part of the large home-school debate league, the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association. We'd be debating illegal immigration, the tax system, trade, foreign oil. We were thinking about all of those issues.
It was Huck's Army that got Chuck Norris involved. How did that happen?
Before the Ames straw poll we sent out a couple hundred e-mails to friends and acquaintances across of the country. One of them went to a friend, an author who just happened to be at Chuck Norris's ranch.
Have you met him yet?
We went down this past week to Texas to his ranch. We spent the whole last week with Chuck Norris! He was definitely very cool.
Did he try to roundhouse you?
We were under strict instructions from our parents to not let him put us in a chokehold. [Laughs] I actually did do something pretty dangerous. I had a really bad headache one night and didn't have any aspirin or anything, so I snuck into Chuck Norris's house at 4 a.m.! I was sure he was going to jump out from the shadows. I ended up finding an Advil and didn't wake him up.