By chance, I’m watching a PBS documentary on the Krakatoa volcanic eruption of 1883 as I write about Mike Huckabee’s Saturday night announcement – the big bang of 2011 that wasn’t (clickhere for the video).
Huckabee had been signaling a disinterest in another president run (most notably, breaking off communication with political consultants). Besides, it doesn’t take an advanced degree in political science to know that, if you intend to seek the presidency, you don’t take the plunge on a little-watched weekend cable show (the eponymous “Huckabee”).
That said, Huckabee’s choice does have a ripple effect on the GOP field:
- The Void. Right now, the Republicans have neither a big-name social conservative nor a true southerner (current or former officeholder) in the running. It may remain that way if former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann take a pass. For a party in need of rebranding for 2012 and beyond, this may help with the Democratic stereotyping of the GOP as too country-fried right-wing.
- Iowa. Huckabee won the 2008 caucuses, with 34% of the vote. Add his numbers to those of Fred Thompson and John McCain (13% apiece), Rudy Giuliani (4%) and Duncan Hunter (1%) and that’s 65% of the 2008 Iowa voters in search of a new candidate in this cycle. Circle August 13 on your calendar – that’s the date of the Iowa straw poll and the beginning of the dash to next year’s caucuses. Look for the “game within the game” – which candidates invest heavily in this very staged event vs. those who downplay it.
- Romney. Before Huckabee took a pass, one could see this strategy for Romney: low-ball the expectations in Iowa (25% and second-place for Romney in 2008), wait for the winner in the friendlier confines of New Hampshire (whose primary the former Massachusetts governor won in 2008). But if Iowa is heavy with second-tier candidates, does Romney have no choice but to play to win in the Hawkeye State?
- Daniels. The Indiana governor soon may crash the party. If so, how does he approach Iowa? It’s a state chock full of Republicans who may care little for Daniels’ call for a GOP “truce” on social issues. Unlike Romney, Daniels doesn’t have a clearly defined “default” state among the early stops on the primary trail (Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina). Where does he set the bar in Iowa – win, place or show?
- Calendar. In 1999, then Texas-Gov. George W. Bush waited until July 12 to pay his first visit to Iowa. A month later, he won that year’s Ames straw poll. Then again, Bush already had momentum in the form of early fundraising prowess, campaign organization and name-familiarity. No GOP hopeful has that kind leverage in this race. Translation: the contest is a scramble, but the clock is ticking for Daniels, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to decide once and for all.