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Globe Editorial

The Huckabee temptation

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February 7, 2008

AFTER Super Tuesday, the only Republican candidate who was unambiguously happy was Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor's victory in four primaries and a state convention has made him a national figure and a potential vice presidential candidate for John McCain, who has not quite clinched the Republican presidential nomination. Huckabee's rise is amazing for someone barely a blip in the polls last year, but it's not good news for the country.

Huckabee, a Baptist minister, would shore up McCain's candidacy within the party where the Arizona senator is weakest, among Southern evangelicals. And Huckabee and McCain are united in their mutual distaste for Mitt Romney, the other major Republican candidate. On Tuesday, McCain supporters in West Virginia switched to Huckabee to deny Romney the endorsement of the Republican state convention.

But though McCain and Huckabee are in agreement on vigorously waging war in Iraq, they are far apart on other issues. McCain, and the nation, should not be lulled by the genial Huckabee into thinking his views are in the mainstream.

McCain acknowledges he is weak on economic issues, yet it would be folly for him to embrace Huckabee's signature position: the replacement of all federal income and payroll taxes with a national consumption tax. Huckabee says it would result in a tax reduction for the very poor, and that may be, but people in the middle class would endure an enormous increase in the cost of everything they buy.

For the nation's immediate economic troubles, Huckabee proposes a massive infrastructure expansion program, with emphasis on highways. Would that jibe with McCain's concerns about global warming and deficit spending? The nation may not need two additional lanes on Interstate 95 from Bangor to Miami, as Huckabee suggests.

McCain's moderate immigration policies gave the Republicans an opening for the Hispanic vote, and Huckabee seemed to be in agreement until he released a tough anti-immigrant policy paper in December. Will Huckabee flip again, and how will voters be able to determine where the ticket really stands on immigration?

"I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives," says Huckabee on his website. Voters will need to assess how this will affect his performance in office. He disbelieves the theory of evolution. He opposes the use of embryonic stem cells for research on disease, a position that differs from McCain's. Huckabee's beliefs may not serve the needs of the country.

Unlike other leaders on the right, Huckabee seems open to dialogue with people who hold other views. But if McCain wants to lead the entire nation, he should be wary of a tight embrace with his friendly competitor.

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