I'd come to get my first up-close glimpse of the man Arkansans call Huck, about whom I knew very little -- beyond the fact that he was far behind in the polls and was said to be very religious. In an impromptu address to a small crowd, Huckabee muttered some stay-the-course nonsense about Iraq and then, when he was finished, sought me out, apparently having been briefed beforehand that Rolling Stone was in the house.
"I'm glad you're here," he told me. "I finally get to tell someone who cares about Keith Richards."
But all the attention on his salesmanship skills obscures the real significance of his rise within the Republican Party. Mike Huckabee represents something that is either tremendously encouraging or deeply disturbing, depending on your point of view: a marriage of Christian fundamentalism with economic populism. Rather than employing the patented Bush-Rove tactic of using abortion and gay rights to hoodwink low-income Christians into supporting patrician, pro-corporate policies, Huckabee is a bigger-government Republican who emphasizes prison reform and poverty relief. In the world of GOP politics, he represents something entirely new -- a cross between John Edwards and Jerry Falwell, an ordained Southern Baptist preacher who actually seems to give a shit about the working poor.
But Huckabee is also something else: full-blown nuts, a Christian goofball of the highest order. He believes the Earth may be only 6,000 years old, angrily rejects the evidence that human beings evolved from "primates" and thinks America wouldn't need so much Mexican labor if we allowed every aborted fetus to grow up and enter the workforce.