The darkhorse Republican from the South for 2012
By John A. Tures
Associate Professor of Political Science
March 1, 2010 —
Like Mike Huckabee did in the 2008 GOP Primary, a dark horse candidate from the South could rise up to win some big races in 2012. But who could that little known candidate be? I’ll offer some suggestions about who could be a household name in two years.
In my last column “Why Republicans are in trouble in 2012” I described the woes of the Grand Old Party for 2012. A combination of weak candidates with surprisingly thin resumes and potential nominees with bad luck in their state’s history could hand what might be a winnable race against President Obama to the Democrats. When a candidate who isn’t running in 2012 wins the CPAC poll, and “none of the above” beats your front runner in a Gallup poll of Republicans, you know your party has issues.
What the Republicans need is some new blood. It could come in the form of a “dark horse” candidate in 2012 that could surprise the establishment the way Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did at the end of 2007.
We look at Mike Huckabee today. He’s very well known, given his combination of a strong primary run in 2008 and his role as a Fox News Commentator. If it wasn’t for having such a big heart and some unfortunate pardons leading to a deadly shooting of several cops in Seattle (as noted in my column “Will GOP voters pardon Huckabee in 2012 or 2016?” he would be the front-runner, given his executive experience (compared to Palin’s) and his credentials as a true conservative (as opposed to Romney’s historic flip flops).
It’s hard to remember that Huckabee came out of nowhere to take the Iowa Caucus and come within an eyelash of taking South Carolina and some Southern primaries, when he wasn’t even named in a series of 2007 polls, which picked Giuliani, Thompson, Romney, McCain.
So who could be the next Huckabee who might come out of nowhere in 2010 or 2011 to beat out a field of weak GOP candidates? Here are my choices for the Southern darkhorse GOP candidate of 2012.
1) Haley Barbour, Mississippi Governor. As RNC chair during the 1994 Republican takeover, Barbour defeated an incumbent governor, and guided his state adeptly through the Hurricane Katrina mess. His drawbacks include a state which tends to score the lowest on the H.L. Mencken list (poverty, test scores, etc.).
2) Jim DeMint, South Carolina Senator. The Senatorial foil to President Obama is already the darling of conservatives, and won’t have to run again until 2016. But boy has he said enough to rally the liberal base, which would make it tricky for him outside of the South.
3) Dr. Charles Boustany, Jr., Louisiana Congressman. Congressman Boustany gave the best nationally televised opposition to President Obama, though it was overlooked. He took over a once-Democratic Party district, and generally gets good marks. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a doctor in the house on the health care issue. But being a former “birther” may not help, though he did clarify his remarks on the subject. It’s been a long time since someone jumped straight from the House of Representatives to the White House too (Can you name that President? The answer is in the conclusion.)
4) Jeff Sessions, Alabama Senator. I’m still surprised that the GOP isn’t doing more to test the waters with this guy. He’s never had anyone lay a glove on him in an election. He’s a budget hawk and anti-earmarker. The only thing working against him might be his controversial judicial nomination hearings in the 1980s.
5) Bob Corker, Tennessee Senator. With real executive experience (as Chattanooga’s Mayor), real business experience, and an understanding of how Washington, DC works, Corker is emerging as someone with a modest penchant for bipartisanship. But that controversial 2006 election against Harold Ford, Jr. could haunt such a bid. Senator Corker would have to show that it was the national party behind those controversial ads against Democrat Harold Ford, Jr.
You might shake your head at this list, but remember that Huckabee came from nowhere to surprise the Republican establishment only a few months after not receiving so much as a sniff in the GOP polls. And with the current list of potential nominees, I’d look real closely at this list for 2012. The last U.S. President to come directly from the House of Representatives was James Garfield of Ohio in 1880.