Why does Mike Huckabee keep on running?
The question takes on extra meaning today as the Arkansas Republican leaves Wisconsin, which holds its primary Tuesday, to take a break of about two days from the campaign trail -- to earn a fee by giving a speech in the Cayman Islands.
"I have to make a living," an unusually testy Huckabee told reporters Wednesday in the Badger State. "I do that through my writing and through my speaking. I've been doing that for quite some time. . . . I'm not independently wealthy. I wish I was."
Huckabee, who drew a governor's paycheck from Arkansas for more than 10 years, until the end of 2006, took a dig at other presidential contenders. The reason for his trip, he said, is "real simple: because I am the only person who doesn't get paid by the taxpayers to campaign. Sen. [Barack] Obama, Sen. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton, Sen. [John] McCain campaign every day. . . . I am a taxpayer, and I have to pay for their Senate salary, even if they are not on duty. The taxpayers aren't paying a dime for me to campaign."
In a biting column Wednesday, David Sanders of the Arkansas News Bureau argued that for Huckabee, money-making and politicking go hand in hand. From Day One, Sanders wrote, "the Huckabee campaign hasn't just been about running for president. It has also been a means by which to advance his career and relevance. Hefty speaking fees, handsome book deals and perhaps his own television show all lie ahead.
"So why should he drop out when momentum is now shifting his way, even though math proves he can't win? Well, that's easy. There is still so much at stake."
All in all, Sanders' assessment was harsh. More plausible is the idea that Huckabee is playing out a 2008 endgame with an eye on his future in the party. It won't be surprising if he stays in the race through Texas' March 4 primary. Establishing a base of support there, spotlighting his political skills for GOP leaders there and improving his standing among the rank-and-file would serve him well in a 2012 presidential bid.
-- Don Frederick
Frederick, with Andrew Malcolm, writes The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket.