LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The story of Mike Huckabee is forever intertwined with the Clintons. And it looks like that connection will get deeper after Huckabee’s appearance on FOX News Friday night saying that he plans to announce his White House plans on May 5 in Hope, Ark.
The choice of Hope is a not-so-subtle jab at Bill Clinton, who, like Huckabee, was born in Hope and who used it strategically as a slogan in his 1992 campaign for president with his slogan: “I Still Believe In A Place Called Hope.”
Huckabee’s nascent campaign offered no details on staffing, but Democrat and Republican sources say that the Huckabee camp has already leased office space in Little Rock. The Washington Post reported earlier on Friday that the former governor told reporters that a Super PAC has been established for his presumed campaign, and that a network of supporters in Iowa was being built up. He’s in New Hampshire tonight.
And Huckabee seems like he’s itching for a fight. On April 12, he tweeted to Hillary: “Congrats. Your announcement makes me nostalgic for our days doing political battle in Arkansas…#ImStillStanding.”
By choosing Hope as the site for his announcement, it appears that he plans to make the Clintons one of his main campaign objectives.
“Governor Huckabee would be well-equipped to run against the Clinton machine since he has overcome it on several occasions in which he won elections that they campaigned against him or against individuals who he supported,” said Doyle Webb, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas.
The Clinton-Huckabee feud may exist mainly in Huckabee’s head, but there’s little doubt that without the election of Clinton to the White House, Huckabee may never have become governor of Arkansas.
Huckabee became lieutenant governor in a special election in 1993 after Clinton became president. In 1996, Huckabee ascended to the governor’s office when then-Governor Jim Guy Tucker resigned after his conviction in the Whitewater scandal. From there, Huckabee went on to serve from 1996 until 2007 as governor until he was term-limited.
The Huckabees moved from Arkansas to Florida in 2010 but have maintained ties in the state through family. Marco Rubio has already claimed Florida, and Arkansas, which is now entirely Republican-controlled, offers Huckabee a spot in Middle America to continue his battle against Hillary Clinton—if he survives a Republican primary—one source said.
Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., said that the 1993 special election set the stage for a long-standing connection between Huckabee and the Clintons.
“In that campaign, beginning a theme that he would use throughout his Arkansas career, Huckabee said his campaign was about ‘unplugging the [state Democratic party] machine’ at a moment of exceptional unpopularity for Clinton nationally,” Barth said. “While there really was no ‘Dem party machine,’ the theme resonated with voters and helped Huckabee eke out a very close win.”
Newspaper articles highlight the long-standing feud between Huckabee and the Clinton machine. A 1993 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “Bill’s Backyard,” said: “Mr. Huckabee ran against a Democratic machine that pulled out all the stops against him.”
In every race Huckabee ran in Arkansas, the Clintons maintained a presence, and Democrats deeply connected to Clinton controlled both chambers of the legislature during Huckabee’s governorship. In 1998, Bill Clinton campaigned for Huckabee’s opponent, Bill Bristow, who was a lawyer for one of Clinton’s state troopers in the Paula Jones saga.
Four years, later in 2002, Clinton’s long-time friend Jimmie Lou Fisher ran against Huckabee but lost. Clinton campaigned on Fisher’s behalf and raised money for her. In that race, Huckabee said, “If you liked Bill Clinton for 12 years, then elect Jimmie Lou Fisher, because that’s basically what you’re going to have. She’s pretty much listened to him for political strategy, for philosophy, and he’s raised her funds. I think he’s had his turn.”
Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said that while there is a long history between Huckabee and the Clintons, the feud has been blown out of proportion.
“The characterization of it as some kind of epic rivalry, though, is likely one-sided,” said Parry. “Governor Huckabee has tremendous political talent: he’s good one-on-one and (at) working a room. But he hasn’t yet parlayed those talents to the world stage. Hillary has, and for far longer, meaning she probably perceives Huckabee as only a slightly more interesting competitor than any of the apparently dozens of others.”