A growing queue snaked through the aisles of the Davenport Sam’s Club on Sunday, as a group of Iowans awaited the arrival of Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor. Each arriving supporter was handed a copy of Huckabee’s new book, “A Simple Government.”
Some mingled, discussing the author’s policies, character, his Fox News show or even the way he smiled. But they soon grew restless, and the chanting began: “Huckabee 2012! Huckabee 2012!”
Within minutes, an enormous tour bus, painted to look like his book’s understated cover, pulled up to the store’s entryway. The man of the hour had arrived.
The door of the bus whooshed open and out poured Huckabee and his entourage. His supporters gathered around, cheering and carrying signs with messages like “America needs Huckabee 2012” or “Huckabee 2012, Chuck Norris Approved.”
Was this just part of a book tour, or a campaign stop for the man who won Iowa, but lost the 2008 Republican nomination for president?
Speculation about Huckabee’s presidential ambitions intensified on Wednesday when Fox News kept him on
its payroll, but suspended former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, two of his fellow contributors who are contemplating runs at the presidency.
By Thursday, CNN was asking Santorum why he thought he got the hook, while Huckabee got to stay. “I don’t know why Fox differentiated, and they didn’t talk to me about it,” Santorum said. On the surface, the difference between Huckabee’s status and that of Santorum and Gingrich is gray. Just last week, Huckabee confidently said he was “seriously and genuinely contemplating a run.
And, this week, during his swing through Iowa, Huckabee designed this book tour as a “pre-campaign,” to see how his message resonates with voters throughout more cities in the heartland. The strategy, he said, will help him decide whether to announce his candidacy.
Regardless of that decision, the massive turnout at his book tour stops on Sunday and Monday showed that he still holds the hearts of many Iowa conservatives.
Iowans were not shy about asking him to throw his hat into the ring. But Huckabee, careful not to tip his hand, just smiled and thanked those who encouraged his bid.
Huckabee’s supporters said they admired his honesty, down-to-earth mentality and his good-natured character.
“He’s an honest man, tells it like it is,” said Charles Ponce, a retired Air Force member who was left his Tulsa, Okla. home to care for his elderly mother in Davenport.
“He wants to do what is right for the country,” he added.
Huckabee greeted each supporter personally, like when he asked a coatless college-aged supporter where his jacket was. When the man motioned to a young woman, who was holding it, Huckabee, looking relieved said, “I was going to have to let you borrow one.”
“I wish [campaigning] meant more and more of visiting with people and listening to their concerns and focusing on issues and what you would do if elected,” Huckabee said in a press conference after the Davenport signing.
His supporters praised that seeming genuineness.
“He was civil before civil became a term used,” said Janelle Stephens, a Huck PAC volunteer, during the Iowa City stop. “I see kindness in his brown eyes and I place a premium in kindness.”
As Huckabee signed the books in front of him, Stephens, who looked to be in her 60s, gazed at him with the unyielding admiration of a love-drunk teenage girl.
“I think he is looking for a sign,” she said. “When God tells you it’s time to run, we’re behind you.”
And how has the pre-campaign progressed thus far? David Huckabee, like his former-governor father, put the answer simply.
“So far so good,” he said.
(Keely Kemp is an IowaWatch staff writer and a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in in Journalism and Spanish.)