Mike Huckabee may be the only politician in American history who can turn painful childhood showers with Lava soap into a core statement of his political identity. He is most assuredly the only Republican ever to reference the Keanu Reeves movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in a convention speech. And he is definitely the only one who can pull off rewriting the lyrics to "Cocaine," Eric Clapton's hit homage to drug abuse, into a campaign theme song called "McCain."
"This is not going to get a Grammy," says Huckabee, the second-place finisher in the Republican primaries, after playing the song at an after-hours convention party with his band Capitol Offense on Tuesday.
On Thursday morning, Huckabee emerged from a side door at an Embassy Suites in St. Paul, Minn., to rally the Maryland delegation over scrambled eggs and powdered donuts. He could not say enough about the selection of Governor Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate. "She looks like Tina Fey, has the accent of Marge Gunderson and kicks tail like Chuck Norris," he told the crowd, in reference to the comedic actress, the fictional sheriff from Fargo and the 1969 karate champion turned action star who was a high-profile supporter of the former Arkansas Governor during the primaries. (See photos of the Chuck and Huck Show here.)
This is the trademark Huckabee style: two parts comedian, two parts common-man populist, and all conservative pol. As they did on the campaign trail in Iowa, Huckabee's political speeches can still have the pacing of a stand-up comedy routine. "Obama got his speech, according to the media, on two tablets of stone, postmarked Mt. Sinai," he jokes one minute. "My dad used to say, 'Son, don't look so far up your family tree. There is stuff up there you don't need to see,' " he deadpans the next.
Though his campaign ended back in March, Huckabee has not much slowed his schedule. "I went from spending a night at home a month to spending three nights at home a month," he jokes, noting he has traveled to about 20 states and three foreign countries Japan, Rwanda and Israel for speaking engagements and charity work since leaving the race. He has joined Fox News as a political contributor, with the potential for an expanded role at the channel later this fall. He has also finished work on his next book, Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That Is Changing America. Huckabee is now coy about the book's content, citing his promise to the publisher to keep it under embargo. But back in April he was a bit more forthcoming about his post-primary feelings, especially among those Evangelical leaders who failed to foresee the churchgoing enthusiasm for the Huckabee campaign. (See photos of Huckabee's presidential run here.)
"When it comes to their own political realm, they think more secularly than the secular," he said then, on a conference call with supporters. "Some really worship at the altar of electability."
In the meantime, he is sticking to a positive script when it comes to tensions within his own party, even his relations to his old opponent McCain, who effectively ended Huckabee's chances by defeating him by fewer than 15,000 votes in South Carolina. "Come to think of it, as I look back, I probably shouldn't have been that nice to the guy," Huckabee joked about McCain at the breakfast meeting.
Onstage at the Republican Convention Wednesday night, Huckabee expressed nothing but praise for McCain, noting his heroic story as a prisoner of war and Barack Obama's "excellent adventure to Europe." Huckabee wrote the speech himself, going through 17 or 18 drafts that saw its length cut nearly in half. In the end, he cut out sections about health care, terrorism and his experience traveling to Rwanda with Cindy McCain.
But he still left in the old standard from nearly every stump speech he gave in his 14-month campaign for the presidency. "The only soap we had at my house was Lava," he said. "Heck, I was in college before I found out it wasn't supposed to hurt to take a shower."
On Thursday morning, Huckabee spoke briefly with McCain by telephone, congratulating the nominee on his choice of Palin as his running mate. He also said he felt sorry for McCain for having to follow Palin's Wednesday-night speech. "She set the bar pretty high," Huckabee said.
But Huckabee has no doubts that the two will work well together on the Republican ticket. "I believe [McCain] will follow Bin Laden whether it's to the caves of Afghanistan or to the gates of hell," he told the Maryland delegation on Thursday. "And after last night I believe Sarah Palin will be right behind him, carrying a couple hockey sticks."