I had the opportunity to see Mike Huckabee today in Dallas at an event hosted by the Rotary and the National Center for Policy Analysis. After a brief introduction by former congressman and current CEO of the NCPA Allen West, Governor Huckabee spoke about his new book, “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy” and how his southern upbringing influenced his current policies. For most part, his speech was unremarkable. At least, he didn’t say anything that would be any more newsworthy than what we already know about the former governor of Arkansas and 2008 Republican presidential candidate. He spoke about his distaste for the group-think and irrationalities of Washington D.C. and how he prefers the common sense lessons he learned as a child; hard work should be rewarded, bad behavior should be punished, and you don’t pick on anyone who can “put you on your butt.” It was a good speech and he remained true to his colloquial nature throughout.
Afterward, he took questions from the audience and it became apparent that he was already in the 2016 presidential race. Every question was based on the underlying premise that he was going to run and he did nothing to discourage it. I don’t think that will be a surprise to anyone. After all, he did recently resign from his Fox gig to consider another bid, he is well-liked in conservative circles, and he has a national following and support structure. His book tour is obviously a way to get book sales and gather local crowds that might someday support his presidential run.
Two things surprised me though, one good and one bad. First, I was pleasantly surprised to see that his marketing prowess was actually quite advanced. As he autographs books after his speeches, one of his staff members takes pictures with an iPad and another staff member hands out cards that direct people to the HuckabeeTour.com website to download their photo. It was the most efficient photo op session I have ever seen. It preempted those annoying people who bring ten different cameras and cell phones and demand pictures with each device. It allowed the Governor to focus on the people rather than the technology and avoid the awkwardness typically associated with photos at signing events. The best thing, though, to my marketing-minded brain was the fact that he pointed people to his website to download their pictures. The website prompts the user for a name and email address. Simple, fluid, non-invasive. By the end of this book tour, Mike should have a very nice email list of people who have heard him speak and were obviously supportive enough to want his autograph. That list will be a gold mine come primary season.
I am a conservative (if you haven’t figured that out yet, now you know), so I am obviously supportive of many of the Governor’s policies by default. I thought he would have run a better campaign than McCain back in 2008 simply because of the force of his convictions. My clients have heard me say countless times that knowing yourself is the first step of a good marketing plan. Huckabee is Southern Baptist, homey, down to Earth, and experienced in the world of politics. For the most part, he has always owned that and it was the main reason he won the Iowa caucus back in 2008. My one bad impression today was that it seemed at times like he was trying to remember a sound bite rather than just speaking his mind. I love great orators. I really like Governor Huckabee, but alas, he is not a great orator. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t need to be. His charm is in his ability to speak honestly, without seeming to be a puppet to political PR consultants. I hope he doesn’t try to be a great orator. It isn’t who he is and it is the one part of his presentation today that came across disingenuous. Not dishonest, just not being true to himself.
So, my verdict for now is that I hope Governor Huckabee throws his hat in the ring. I think he will add some legitimacy to the primary. I personally think there are already too many unqualified people positioning themselves to run for the Republican ticket. It has caused a lot of harm in the past two presidential cycles. Mike isn’t one of them. Whatever you might think of his policies, you have to admit that he has the background, experience, and qualifications to be president. For that reason, I am glad he didn’t stop us from thinking he was running.