The conventional wisdom about Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential short list, according to a handful of Romney insiders, may be wrong. Instead of picking a straitlaced Midwestern senator such as Ohio’s Rob Portman, or an outspoken northeastern Republican governor such as Chris Christie, there is a chance Romney will tap an evangelical from the South.
And the name on the lips of Romney friends and supporters isn’t a rising southern senator or a current Dixie governor. He has been out of office for five years, resides on a beach in the Florida panhandle, and hosts a television show.
In other words, Mike Huckabee, the bass-guitar-playing former governor.
Yes, according to several sources close to the Romney campaign, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the vice-presidential search, the 56-year-old Arkansan may be included in the veep mix.
To many Republicans, a ticket with a Mormon bishop and a Baptist preacher isn’t far-fetched. “In a way, it’s almost a dream ticket,” says Ed Rollins, the chairman of Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He’s substantive and knows domestic policy, and his personality wouldn’t overshadow Romney’s.”
For now, it isn’t clear whether Huckabee is going to be vetted, or that he’s anywhere near Romney’s short list. But he is, at the very least, being discussed. As one Romney ally puts it, tapping Huckabee would energize tea-party conservatives, evangelicals, and related voters who soured on Romney during the GOP primaries. He’s also not a sweat-inducing pick, since he was vetted by the Beltway press during his presidential run four years ago.
A second top Romney source is less enthusiastic about Huckabee’s conservative appeal but acknowledges that the former governor is probably on the “larger list of about 40 names” that’s being debated within Romney’s inner circle. “People have made that suggestion,” the source said, during conversations with Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager, and tight-lipped Romney confidants such as Scott Romney, the candidate’s older brother, and Ann, Romney’s wife.
Over the next month, that larger list will be whittled down, but the ongoing talks among Romney’s broad group of advisers are reportedly lively and wide-ranging, with the usual names, such as Portman and Senator Marco Rubio, being mentioned, along with other, less obvious options such as Huckabee.
This is a time to “be frank and open about our options,” a third Romney source says, and if Huckabee rises during the consideration process, it won’t be a surprise. Romney’s camp, the source explains, may be tight-lipped in the official search, which is being led by longtime aide Beth Myers, but when it comes to soliciting advice from outside advisers and donors, it is open to suggestions.
What matters to Romney’s campaign, more than anything, sources say, is beating President Obama, and if a slightly unconventional or unexpected vice-presidential selection is part of that equation, they’re willing to do it. Experience and competence are two key factors, but they’re not the only ones.
The growing buzz about Huckabee within segments of Romney World delights social-conservative leaders and Huckabee allies, who have long hoped that Romney would reach out to the GOP’s evangelical voters with the veep selection. “If he’s not on the short list, somebody ought to put him there,” says Hogan Gidley, a former adviser to Huckabee. “He’d bring excitement to a ticket that’s lacking that, to some degree, right now. Beyond that, he’d bring a huge grassroots organization, and, to put it simply, the South.”
Veteran conservative activist Ralph Reed agrees. “Huckabee would be an outstanding and inspired choice,” he says. “He has tremendous support among evangelicals and conservatives, and he knows how to frame issues in a way that makes it clear he has core convictions and he does it in a winsome way.”
“Whatever differences Romney and Huckabee had during the 2008 campaign, and I don’t think they were significant, they have put that behind them,” Reed adds. “Governor Huckabee and Governor Romney, from what I can tell, have a good relationship, and each of them respects the work and views of the other.”
Romney campaign aides say Huckabee and Romney have healed any lingering wounds throughout the past year, mostly during the public forums hosted by Huckabee during the primary campaign, and behind the scenes before television tapings. Huckabee, they say, may not have received a lot of attention as a Romney supporter, but he has been supportive during key moments in the campaign, such as when Democrats attacked Romney as a flip-flopper on abortion. Huckabee, speaking on Fox News, favorably compared Romney’s conversion to Ronald Reagan’s.