LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Imagine this: A man from Hope with a weight problem serves more than 10 years as Arkansas (search) governor, makes cross-country connections through his leadership of the National Governors Association and weighs a run for the White House. Bill Clinton? Not this time.
Mike Huckabee (search), a Republican who took over as governor at the height of Clinton's Whitewater scandal — and who lost more than 100 pounds while promoting health in an unhealthy state — is being talked up for a presidential run after he leaves the Governor's Mansion in 2007 at age 51.
His new weight-loss book, "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork," reached as high No. 9 on Amazon.com, and he has gone on a New York-to-Los Angeles book tour that has boosted the former Baptist minister's national profile.
He also ran this year's Little Rock Marathon (search) with Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa — which happens to be the site of the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.
"This has not been some sort of diabolical master plan to raise my profile," Huckabee said. "I did not go out and lose weight and improve my health to raise my image. People who think that are giving me too much credit."
Marathon runner or not, if Huckabee were to enter the 2008 presidential race he could find himself miles behind other candidates.
"If he sees himself with a lot of support among religious conservatives, there are people out there already with national records working hard at that. You have Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, Sam Brownback in Kansas, George Allen in Virginia, all from that segment of the party," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Other possible nominees include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia; former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Jeb Bush of Florida (the president's brother), George Pataki of New York and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee; and Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John McCain of Arizona.
If Huckabee were to win the nomination with support from religious and social conservatives, would have he have a platform that would be attractive nationally?
Goldford said Huckabee stands out with his anti-obesity program, but that issue probably wouldn't carry much weight in a presidential campaign.
"I don't know if people are out there searching in their souls for the Jenny Craig candidate," Goldford said.
Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, is not ready to rule Huckabee out. Southerners have lived in the White House since 1989, and for 20 of the past 28 years. And since Jimmy Carter, every president except the first President Bush has been a former governor.
During a book-tour stop in New York, Huckabee appeared with Clinton to promote good health, but said he and Clinton never talked presidential politics. Clinton's wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), D-N.Y., is also a potential candidate in 2008.
Next month in Iowa, Huckabee will take over the chairmanship of the National Governors Association, a group Clinton headed in 1986-87.
The chairmanship "can allow a governor of a medium or a small state to build credibility and have a say on issues they wouldn't otherwise be involved in," said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Goldfarb said he doesn't believe a place called Hope, where Huckabee was born in 1955, can work presidential magic again.
"That might get him three seconds at a campaign stop," Goldfarb said.