Huckabee and Fiorina Join Crowded 2016 Race

Mike Huckabee 2016 Presidential candidate

photo by Alan Clanton

Huckabee and Fiorina Join Crowded 2016 Race
| published May 4, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

The 2016 Republican race for the Presidency continues to heat up, and get crowded. Though officially only a small handful of GOP candidates are running, at least a dozen have launched exploratory committees, formed Political Action Committees, and already started the busy process of speaking to audiences and raising money.

Among those presumed to be running for President: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, and fundraising front-runner Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor. And there are at least a dozen more with their eyes on 2016, including Ohio’s John Kasich, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, businessman Donald Trump, and Texas Governor Rick Perry. It makes for a crowded field, but some analysts also believe the field is strong—even top-heavy with qualified candidates.

That already bustling horse race will get even more challenging by the end of the first Monday in May, as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former HP CEO and AT&T executive Carly Fiorina each make their intentions known publicly, and as Dr. Ben Carson—a presumed candidate for more than a month—makes his campaign official.

Fiorina’s entry into the race marks the moment when the first woman enters the Republican field for 2016, and Carson’s entry signals the first African-American candidate for 2016. Huckabee, a candidate who showed strong support from a wide tract of social conservatives in 2008, may galvanize Southern conservatives and evangelicals unsure or uneasy about many of the other candidates. All three will draw from varying but slightly overlapping segments of GOP support—though some Republican strategists suggest that Carson and Huckabee may be more closely competing for the same votes.

Fiorina, who made her announcement on Good Morning America, has never held elective office, though she has been widely watched as a potential candidate as far back as 2008 and 2012. She was on Senator John McCain’s short list of potential vice-presidential candidates prior to the 2008 conventions, and she made appearances at the 2008 and 2012 Republican National Conventions. Once named by Fortune magazine as the most powerful woman in corporate America, Fiorina has served in top posts with AT&T, Lucent Technology (an AT&T spinoff which she helmed), and most famously with Hewlett-Packard.

Her candidacy is considered a long shot by many political experts, but then Fiorina doesn’t wilt in the face of tough challenges. Those who have watched her over the years, and those who have followed her interest in national politics, know that she has an impressive backstory, including her rise through the corporate ranks from secretary-receptionist to the top of the corporate world. This piece of the narrative pits her comfortably and believably against presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who ascent in the political world—linked as it has been to husband Bill Clinton and longstanding problems of accountability—is a story Republicans believe is vulnerable to attack. The point? As a worker bee and a top manager, Fiorina has to take responsibility for problems and assume ownership of issues. And, as Mark Halperin of Bloomberg has pointed out: Fiorina can attack Hillary Clinton in ways not available to the male candidates without coming across as sexist—a land mine which will no doubt explode at some point along the campaign trail, just as it did in that bitter race between Obama and Clinton in 2008.

But there are obstacles for Fiorina as well, not the least of which were the problems she faced while serving as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard. HP lost ground during her tenure, in part the result of the bubble burst, but also in part because of overreaches by HP. She successfully managed the massive merger between HP and Compaq, but then faced more problems soon afterward. After a nasty internal fight with the board over authority and decision-making, she was nudged out as CEO in 2005. But she was handed an estimated $20 million to leave quietly.

Far from fading, Fiorina stayed busy, joining the board of trustees at MIT and becoming a top board member of the World Economic Forum. An economics and business policy wonk, her likely political tack will be to drive the conversation toward jobs growth and income disparity.

Fiorina was also a top advisor to John McCain’s Presidential campaign in 2008, and despite a lot of talk in the media that she was on his short list of potential running mates, little came of the discussion despite an intense effort by McCain’s inner circle to find a qualified woman. Later, after McCain selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Fiorina rushed to defend Palin after several weeks of intense attacks in the press. But her defensive moves on behalf of Palin backfired, and Fiorina was shunted away from further exposure to reporters.

Fiorina is also somewhat socially liberal on some issues, but it can get complicated. Example: she enthusiastically supports medical and insurance benefits for same sex couples (an extension, perhaps, of her corporate culture), but opposed efforts by the California Supreme Court to rule unconstitutional the political outcome of Proposition 8 in 2010, which defined marriage as a union between a woman and a man. She also tends to split the difference on issues of climate change and global warming, agreeing that humankind is having a measurable effect on climate, but offering skepticism regarding theories that recent extreme weather events and changes in global weather patterns are the direct result of industrialization or greenhouse gases.

Huckabee has been down this path before. Huckabee proudly counts among his strengths his stewardship of the governor’s mansion and management of legislation in his home state of Arkansas—also the same tough political arena which produced the Clintons. He says he knows and understands the Clinton machine as well as anyone, and says his political survival in The Natural State is proof enough that he has the mettle and patience to take on Hillary in 2016.

Mike Huckabee’s path in 2008 proved to be wide, and a game-changer. He surprised most political observers by besting many of his opponents, pulling off better-than-expected showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Huckabee survived Florida even when other heavyweights collapsed—Rudy Giuliani, Fred Dalton Thompson, Duncan Hunter, to name but three. Huckabee made it to the so-called Final Four (Huckabee, McCain, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul) and reached Super Tuesday, allowing him to win a wide swath of the South and Middle America, a path later re-occupied by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in 2012.

Huckabee’s strengths also include his omnipresence in the media in the intervening years, and his disarming sense of humor. Huckabee generally performs better-than-expected in debates, especially when the tone gets nasty and the mud starts flying; some strategists have pointed out that in 2008, while Obama, Clinton, and John Edwards were attacking each other with machetes and chainsaws, Huckabee gained in stature by simply remaining a decent, honorable sort of soul. The contrast cut across party lines and channeled lots of goodwill toward Huckabee, who later remained neutral when things get chilly between Romney and McCain in the final debates.

Huckabee’s arrival may also finally close the door on options for the remaining southerners waiting in the wings; South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, having already formed a Political Action Committee, has said he is strongly considering running, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been organizing for a run as well. Bush and Rubio are both from Florida.

The main problem for Huckabee: a field already top heavy with social conservatives and Tea Party heroes, such as Ted Cruz and Scott Walker. The former Arkansas Governor is arriving late to the table, and many of the voters he would have previously been able to count on are already eyeing other candidates.

Neurosurgeon and author Dr. Ben Carson, a presumed candidate since he indicated in March his intentions to run, also made it official on Monday. Carson has been a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and has been a conservative favorite for several years. Though Carson's followers are loyal and enthusiastic, like Fiorina, he lacks national name recognition. Carson may also face struggles in fundraising against other top tier conservatives like Scott Walker and Ted Cruz.

Meanwhile, polling for Republicans is in a state of constant flux. Though Bush and Walker are raising the most cash (Bush may soon break all records for fundraising), the complexity and depth of the field mean that some GOP voters are hedging their bets. Currently, Bush is running slightly ahead of Walker in polling, with Rubio, Cruz, Paul and Christie following close behind. One analysis of the math says that Jeb Bush benefits from the crowded field, especially as the weight of the candidates shifts rightward. Bush is seen as moderate on many issues, conservative on others, but primarily as a candidate of the mainstream; a five-way split between social conservatives and Tea Party favorites (Cruz, Walker, Carson, Huckabee, Rubio) leaves Bush with more footing and more space.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Clintons, The Foundation & The Foreign Dollars; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; May 1, 2015.

Will Bush Outsource Campaign Work?; Thursday Review; April 23, 2015.