Wit with a sharp point

NY Times:

“I can’t buy you — I don’t have the money,” Mike Huckabee, the Arkansas Republican seeking the presidency, told Republicans at the Iowa Straw Poll this weekend. He offered a mock frown.

“I can’t even rent you,” he said.

The crowd, which had been rustling, burst into warm laughter at a pointed joke intended to remind them of Mr. Huckabee’s earnest underdog campaign. Five hours later, the voters rewarded him with 2,587 votes and a second-place finish in the poll — surprising, it would seem, even Mr. Huckabee.

If much of the country knows Mr. Huckabee at all, it is as the Southern Baptist minister and former governor from Arkansas who lost 110 pounds, wrote a book about it and toured the television talk show circuit promoting good eating habits.

On Sunday, Mr. Huckabee received fresh attention as the Republican who, building on an appeal to conservative Christians, managed an underfinanced campaign to come in second, behind Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who got 32 percent of the votes. Before the voting even started, much of the political significance had been sapped from the event by the absence of three candidates: Rudolph W. Giuliani, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Fred D. Thompson.

So it says something about American politics that a second-place finish in a nonbinding poll in which Mr. Huckabee drew 18 percent should be viewed as an achievement that would energize and extend a campaign that has been viewed within his party as a long shot. Still, Mr. Huckabee, appearing on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, did not seem to find anything amusing about that.

“An amazing kind of day for us,” Mr. Huckabee said.

But for those who have followed Mr. Huckabee as he has traveled across the country these past six months, he has distinguished himself in another way: as a candidate of considerable humor who stands apart in this oh-so-serious field of presidential contenders (think Mr. Giuliani talking about the threat of terrorist attacks). Mr. Huckabee uses humor as a way to court voters, soften rivals, make political arguments and seamlessly slice an opponent.“I was the first governor in America to have a concealed handgun permit — so don’t mess with me!” Mr. Huckabee told a conservative convention in Washington.

Or consider this, as he invited Republicans to join in “a Q. and A.” with him in West Des Moines. “What it really stands for is questions and avoidance,” he explained. “I do my best not to say anything that would end my political career.”

Or this, talking about what Mr. Huckabee has described as frequent accusations of political corruption in the state: “It got to be where the five most feared words for an Arkansas politician were, ‘Will the defendant please rise’.”

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One of his best jabs was the "Tax me some more" fund he established in Arkansas for those who thought taxes should be raised. It offered them a way to make a contribution to the state without coercing everyone else to do so. Its success was its failure to get any meaningful contributions and killing the idea of a tax increase. Wit has a way of ridiculing your opponents policy positions in a way that is difficult to attack. He is a clever guy and he may have a shot as a Vice President slot. The chances that he will get the Republican nomination remain remote, but it is too early to push him off the stage and it would make the debates even more boring.

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