Huckabee’s Blue-Collar Bid


By: Wall Street Journal

Populist Message Targets Michigan Vote
By LAURA MECKLER and ALEX FRANGOS

DETROIT — Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee brought his populist message to Michigan on the hunt for blue-collar workers that Ronald Reagan once brought into the Republican fold.

The former Arkansas governor promised that his economic policy would help not just those at the top but also those at the bottom, including those in Michigan with its so-called one-state recession.

He spoke passionately about the woes of the state he hopes to win in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Michigan, he said, helped the U.S. build up a manufacturing base that made possible victories in World War II and other conflicts. “There was a time in this nation’s history when Michigan saved America, and now it may be time for America to help save Michigan,” he said to applause at the Detroit Economic Club.

Asked after his speech what the nation should be doing to help Michigan, he urged changes to tax, regulatory, education and tort policies, and said the U.S. should not sign unfair trade deals.

Pressed for specifics, he offered no targeted prescription for Michigan; he said there should be better training programs but offered few details.

He pitched his proposal for the “fair tax,” which would replace all federal income taxes with a national sales tax. That, he said, would help everyone, including those in Michigan.

Mr. Huckabee is locked in a tight race here with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — a Michigan native — and Arizona Sen. John McCain. And he has a larger goal: to reassemble the broad coalition that led to Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in 1984. That year, Mr. Reagan drew strong support from union workers, Catholics and others who traditionally had voted for Democrats. To that end, Mr. Huckabee talks about making the economy “work for Main Street, not just Wall Street,” and decries the increasing income gap between rich and poor.

At a candidate forum in New Hampshire Sunday, Mr. Huckabee said that if the Republicans don’t “wake up” to the struggles of the middle class, the party will “lose not just those families. We’re going to lose what the Reagan revolution was about. It was about getting those working-class people to believe that the Republicans cared about them, had a message for them, would empower them and give them a chance to live the American dream.”

Mr. Huckabee’s success so far has been due largely to his appeal to evangelical Christians who appreciate his embrace of religion and unwavering conservative positions on social issues. In Iowa, eight in 10 of his supporters described themselves as evangelical or born again. The large evangelical community in South Carolina is expected to boost him there next Saturday, in the first Southern primary.

But Mr. Huckabee has always hit a populist tone as well, and his campaign hopes that will be particularly effective in Michigan, where the unemployment rate was 7.4% in November, a full percentage point higher than any other state. The national jobless rate is 5%.

Nationally, the picture is grim, too, with recession fears rising. Oil prices pierced $100 a barrel, albeit briefly, and are now hovering above $90. The housing crisis has meant some Americans have lost their houses, and others fear they might. In New Hampshire, 80% of Republican primary voters said they were very or somewhat worried about the economy’s direction, according to exit polls.

Even before the last round of bad economic news, Mr. Huckabee had said that Republicans need to acknowledge that all isn’t well, even as some of his competitors painted a more upbeat picture.

“We rise together, we fall together, and it’s time we unite together so we rise to the incredible challenge we face as a nation,” he said Friday. “My goal is not to make rich people poor; it’s to make it so that poor people have a shot at the American dream and maybe becoming rich themselves.”

Other candidates, too, have been focusing on the economy. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani introduced a tax-cut package this week, and on the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York unveiled a stimulus package Friday.

Mr. Huckabee also has courted union workers, and announced Friday that he had been endorsed by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Earlier, he secured endorsements from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the New Hampshire branch of the National Education Association, a teachers union. In at least the latter two cases, all Mr. Huckabee had to do was be the only Republican willing to show up to their candidate forums last summer to get the nod.

He says he supports the Writers Guild of America strike “unequivocally,” though he crossed their picket line to appear on the “Tonight Show” on the eve of Iowa’s caucuses.

“He’s more for the working man than most Republicans,” said David Kerr, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Des Moines who joined Mr. Huckabee’s victory party the night of the Iowa caucuses. “He’s a real person. He didn’t go to Yale or to Harvard.”

–T.W. Farnam contributed to this article.

Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com and Alex Frangos at alex.frangos@wsj.com

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