Column | Don’t count out Huckabee in 2016

December 17, 2013 

Mike Huckabee, after passing in 2012, is making noises about running for president in 2016.

Which brings up a question: What happens to candidates who come close to a nomination, skip a cycle and then try again?

Looking only at the post-reform period (beginning in 1972), there’s one very good example: Al Gore ran for president in 1988, passed in 1992, and ran and won the Democratic nomination in 2000.

But it’s not really an inspiring example for Huckabee; as much as Fox News contributors and radio talk-show hosts are within the GOP, it’s not quite as significant a resume-enhancer as two terms as vice president.

Joe Biden flamed out early in 1988 and then, well, flamed out slightly later in 2008.

But Biden’s campaign probably put him on the short list for the ticket’s second spot. Dick Gephardt was a solid candidate in 1988, skipped 1992 and 2000 and went nowhere in 2004.

Three candidates — Jerry Brown in 1992, George McGovern in 1984 and Gene McCarthy in 1988 — attempted comebacks at the top level long after leaving office; they did little to recall their heydays.

Ron Paul first ran as a Libertarian in 1988, flirted with a GOP run in 1992, skipped the 1996 and 2000 cycles and jumped back in for 2008 and 2012. One could look back before reform and spot Richard Nixon, who skipped 1964, but that seems very different from what Huckabee would be doing.

The two who seem closest to Huckabee, I suppose, are Biden and Gephardt. They modestly enhanced their resumes in the intervening years; one could argue Huckabee’s media ventures count, although it’s probably a stretch. At least he didn’t disappear, as Brown did.

Overall, it’s not an en-couraging story, although there aren’t many cases. Even more discouraging are those candidates who passed the first time only to find that the parade passed them by.

We don’t know who might fall into that category in 2016, but at least a few will.

Does that mean Huckabee shouldn’t be looked at as a viable candidate? That would be taking limited data too far.

The previous record of these candidates suggests that he’s not going to have much of a headstart from his 2008 run. If he has a chance, it will be because of what he has to offer now, not because of support he’s built over time.

Jonathan Bernstein is a politicial scientist and blogger. He wrote this for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @jbplainblog.

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