What Huckabee Wants

I defer, of course, to Jim Geraghty when he reports, here and here, that in terms of actual delegates to the GOP convention the debate over who "won" the Washington Caucus was much ado about nothing. But in terms of how the race gets covered, you can see why the Huckabee campaign would have been steamed by the possibility, however slim, that they were denied a victory in the voting by some behind-the-scenes flimflam. Nobody in the national press went into the details about how the Washington vote doesn't really matter for delegate apportionment; they just reported it, at least at first, as a victory for McCain, full stop. And for Huck's campaign, what matters now isn't how many delegates he accumulates - since he obviously isn't going to derail McCain in the long run - but what kind of attention he gets along the way, and getting credited for a weekend sweep would have raised his profile considerably more than the two-of-three showing he seems to have actually enjoyed.

Jennifer Rubin argues that Huck’s campaign for attention can only hurt his future ambitions, but I’m not so sure. The whole “the more people see of Huck, the less they’ll like him” thesis has been bandied about by conservative pundits for months now without being borne out in the polls. Huckabee is clearly hoping that his one-on-one moment with McCain will help establish him as a force within the GOP going forward, whether it boosts his cachet as a potential VP pick, or simply helps him to consolidate his position as the spokesman for the populist, religious-conservative wing of the party. (And maybe persuades a few McCain-haters in the movement to take a second look at him – who knows?) If he keeps on the way he’s been going - winning some small states, polling surprisingly well in big ones, and racking up the occasional endorsement (yesterday, James Dobson; today, Paul Weyrich) - I don’t think this is an unreasonable calculation. Particularly since if McCain were to pick him as his veep, it would be on the assumption that Huck could help turn out the right-wing base – and every vote he gets from here to the convention is an exhibit for the theory that he’s actually more in touch with the conservative grassroots than, say, Rush Limbaugh.

Obviously there’s a balancing act here, and to the extent that he ends up being a serious thorn in the McCain camp’s side - if only by reminding the media how lukewarm the love for McCain is on the Right - it’s hard to imagine that they’ll want to hand him the keys to the Naval Observatory. But McCain probably won’t pick him as a running mate no matter what he does, in which case this is Huck’s last chance to steal even a little of the ’08 limelight. So long as he isn’t embarrassing himself (and he isn’t at the moment), why shouldn’t he make the most of it? He won’t get to play air hockey with Stephen Colbert come the fall …