Arkansas Analysts On Huckabee's 'Southern Firewall' & Leadership Teams

Sep 28, 2015

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with Kim Davis as she exited jail following her refusal to follow a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky county.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on Monday announced “leadership teams” in four Southern states in his bid for the White House. The 2016 GOP hopeful called the organizational build-up in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia part of a “southern firewall.” Some Arkansas political analysts say a strong showing in the South is critical if Huckabee expects to break through a crowded field and national poll numbers in the low-single digits. 

Huckabee garnered the support of a U.S. Representative from Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia also enlisted himself in Huckabee’s “leadership team.” In Arkansas he gained the support of nearly every major statewide office holder.

Though none of the names of the Republican leadership in the state Senate or state House appeared in the Arkansas group. The name of U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, who Huckabee stumped for in 2014, was also absent.

(A full list of those on Huckabee’s leadership teams is at the bottom of this post.) 

Hal Bass teaches political science at Huckabee’s alma matter Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. Bass said it’s an opportunity for Huckabee to pick up support in friendlier terrain.

“His early campaign season prospects at this point don’t look particularly good and he needs to make a stand on his home turf, where the primary electorate includes large numbers of white evangelicals who have been his main stay in his previous presidential campaign,” said Bass.

Political scientist Greg Shufeldt at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock said a string of southern states, forming a so-called SEC Primary, is trying to become more relevant, and is in Huckabee’s situation.

“Other states are trying to get some of this attention so more and more states moved their primaries or their caucuses up early. It’s called front loading the process. We have states after Iowa and New Hampshire, and South Carolina and Nevada, we have a series of states that have moved their primaries up earlier to try and have some sort of say in who wins the Democratic and Republican nomination. Super Tuesday is kind of the last big day,“ said Shufeldt. “On the Republican side the number of delegates gets awarded proportionally. Even if Governor Huckabee doesn’t win a state, if he puts in a good showing it still provides him with an incentive to keep going.”

Bass thinks Huckabee’s leadership teams show a respectable presence, particularly in Arkansas, built in by his party building legacy.

“He was governor when the Arkansas Republican Party broke out of its northwest Arkansas bastion and really became a statewide presence. The list of the current GOP office holders got their political careers underway in many cases in the 1990s and 2000s. I think what you’re seeing here is Governor Huckabee kind of calling in markers with the assistance of favors of support he’s provided in the past. Whether that translates to the rank and file voters is very much an open question but it’s certainly a signal that he has the political elites of Arkansas largely on his side,” said Bass.

However, he cautioned that Huckabee isn’t where he should be in Arkansas.

“He doesn’t have the presence to date that you might expect a favorite son to have in this satiation. He is no longer a resident of the state and has been several years since he held office,” Bass said.

The sponsor of the state’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act-styled bill state Representative Bob Ballinger gave opening remarks for an energetic Ted Cruz rally in Little Rock and Ben Carson has drawn the largest crowd of any presidential candidate to visit Arkansas. In an early August poll Donald Trump edged out Huckabee in Arkansas.

The absences of Senator Cotton, U.S. Representative Steve Womack and a number of high profile state legislators aside, Shufeldt agrees with Bass that the list is generally a good showing.

“This is a fairly impressive list. In part it shows the discipline of the Republican Party in the state and the unity that you see within the state. To be able to have a list of these many elected officials is a good sign. If he wasn’t able to get this you’d really be worried for the campaign,” said Shufeldt.

But the commitment of supporters might not be as firm as the list suggests in Shufeldt's analysis, “from the perspective of these elected officials it’s really a low-cost decision to support the governor right now. Should he falter and drop out of the race, then they’re free to support other candidates and maybe those of their initial choosing. But right now it’s easy to be the good Republican solider or loyal Arkansas voter and support the governor at this stage in the campaign.”

But an edge with the establishment isn't necessarily a boon in a Republican electorate clamoring toward anti-establishment figures. Huckabee's establishment ties, at least outside of Arkansas, fall short of other candidates as well, said Shufeldt.

"Governor Huckabee is really boxed in. He can't make the establishment appeal because he has run as an outsider, he said. "To the extent that elite endorsements signal who the party wants to win, while this is an impressive list, Huckabee generally falters behind others, most notably Jeb Bush."

Arkansas:

Governor Asa Hutchinson, Huckabee for President State Chair

U.S. Senator John Boozman, Huckabee for President State Chair

U.S. Representative Rick Crawford, Congressional Leadership Committee

U.S. Representative French Hill, Congressional Leadership Committee

U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman, Congressional Leadership Committee

Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, State Steering Committee Co-Chair

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, State Steering Committee Co-Chair

Secretary of State Mark Martin, State Steering Committee

State Treasurer Dennis Milligan, State Steering Committee

Land Commissioner John Thurston, State Steering Committee

State Senator Alan Clark, State Legislative Committee

State Senator Bryan King, State Legislative Committee

State Senator Jason Rapert, Co-Chair State Legislative Committee

State Senator Gary Stubblefield, State Legislative Committee

State Senator Jon Woods, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Karilyn Brown, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Donnie Copeland, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Charlene Fite, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Mickey Gates, Co-Chair State Legislative Committee

State Representative Justin Harris, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Prissy Hickerson, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Jack Ladyman, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Julie Mayberry, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Laurie Rushing, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Nelda Speaks, State Legislative Committee

State Representative James Sturch, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Dwight Tosh, State Legislative Committee

State Representative David Wallace, State Legislative Committee

State Representative Richard Womack, State Legislative Committee

Republican National Committeeman Jonathan Barnett, State Steering Committee

2016 National Federation of Republican Women Secretary Julie Harris, State Grassroots Co-Chair

Larry Toller, State Grassroots Co-Chair

Georgia:

Governor Sonny Perdue, Huckabee for President State Chair

U.S. Representative John Linder, State Steering Committee

State Representative Sam Teasley, Co-Chair State Legislative Committee State Representative

Tom Kirby, Co-Chair State Legislative Committee

Phil Dacosta, State Grassroots Co-Chair

Colonel Larry Mrozinski, State Grassroots Co-Chair

North Carolina:

U.S. Representative Charles Taylor, Huckabee for President State Chair

Pastor Mark Harris, Huckabee for President State Chair

County Commissioner Woody White, State Steering Committee

Wayne Langston, State Grassroots Co-Chair

Tennessee:

U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, Huckabee for President State Chair

Mayor Mark Lutrell, Jr., Huckabee for President State Co-Chair

State Senator Ed Jackson, Co-Chair State Legislative Committee

State Representative Barry Doss, Co-Chair State Legislative Committee

State Representative Cameron Sexton, Co-Chair State Legislative Committee

Phil Cavendar, State Grassroots Chair

David Kustoff, State Director