The most interesting statistic to come out of the Nevada primary tonight is the dismal 8 percent showing for Gov. Mike Huckabee.
This shows what we all should have suspected that the Evangelical-Mormon estrangement cuts both ways. And it sends a very clear message to both the Romney and Huckabee camps. There is no way either one will win in a general election without having the other one on the ticket.
Here is how it works. Evangelicals in Iowa melted away from Mormon Romney, in spite of his huge expenditure in time and money. They just wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. The votes easily slipped to former Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee, an evangelical, and he carried the state. But tonight, as one of the front-runners, Huckabee should have enjoyed a nice showing in Nevada, a conservative-libertarian state where his tax ideas should be well received. But, Mormon voters in Nevada, once confined to Utah and now a force throughout the Mountain States, are not biting for Huckabee. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
It is easy to understand how this estrangement developed. Mormons were rightly proud of their man, Gov. Mitt Romney. He was a classy businessman who turned around the Olympics, won the governor’s mansion in Massachusetts, a Republican victory in the heart of Kennedy territory, and last year took the lead in the polls for the first two GOP contests for the Republican nomination for 2008. But after two years of campaigning, Romney saw his lead in Iowa evaporate as evangelicals melted away, supporting their own Mike Huckabee instead. And then McCain beat Romney in New Hampshire.
Sensing that evangelicals were not going to accept him, Romney pulled his television ads in South Carolina and left the state to McCain and Huckabee.
In fairness to the evangelicals, and I am one, Mormon voters have long been suspect of evangelicals too. As a candidate for congress in Arizona, my campaign leadership were all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They helped me win an upset primary victory. But in the general election too many Mormons stayed home and it led to my defeat. My Mormon staff sadly confided to me post campaign that my “faith” had been the deciding “negative” factor.
Mike Huckabee’s hope of winning the nomination is to carry the South and hope that McCain, Giuliani, and Romney split the rest of the states. Romney is counting on the west, California and a couple of more Eastern states. But remember, the GOP delegate count is more loaded for the Southern states that traditionally vote with them in the general election.
In a general election, Huckabee could carry the South and nothing else if even a piece of the Mormon vote stayed home. It is not a big vote but they are activists in key Western states where Democrats have been threatening in recent years with increased Hispanic voters. Even if Huck carried Ohio, which would be tough, it would not be enough. The only way he could hope to win is to have Romney on the ticket and hope to sweep the South and mountain states.
The whole scenario works exactly the same in reverse for Romney. If he wins the nomination he could find himself winning in many southern states but losing Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, key border states, heavily laden with evangelical voters who make the difference. Most would vote for him but enough would stay home to see those close states tilt into the Democrat column. The only way he could hope to win is to have Huckabee on the ticket, reassuring evangelicals.
The fact is that neither one will be in the mood to accept the second place at the GOP convention. That’s why Huckabee and Romney need to meet now. They need to have a gentleman’s agreement to work for the other if they lose. Otherwise, they are both just spinning their wheels. Neither one can win without the other. They are joined at the hip. Or, if you prefer, they are a match made in heaven.
Doug Wead is a presidential historian and New York Times best-selling author. He has been a White House senior staffer and an adviser to two presidents. http://dougwead.wordpress.com/
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