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Huckabee may get a fresh financial boost as a result of his recent polling success, but interviews with local Republicans suggest that he shouldn't expect many more dollars from the state party establishment.
David Sanders, a conservative Stephens Media columnist and former Huckabee staffer, noted that Huckabee is suffering because some Republicans believe he hurt the party. “It's a party that struggles to find a message and that struggles to find a candidate,” said Sanders. “There are more similarities than there are differences between a Mike Huckabee-style Republican and an Arkansas Democrat.”
J.J. Vigneault, a former consultant to Huckabee, stressed that Arkansas Republicans feel jilted by the former governor. “I think he left a high body count in the state,” Vigneault said. He also pointed to some specific Huckabee policies that alienated fellow party members. “He left a lot of Republicans very disappointed in his record on taxes and size of state government. You would have to classify him as a down-and-out liberal on immigration.”
While disputes with Huckabee often started with policy, they could quickly become personal. “Governor Huckabee is legendary for being thin-skinned and vindictive,” said Vigneault. “A lot of folks out there felt his wrath over 10 years.”
According to former state legislators and executive aides, Huckabee sometimes went out of his way to punish officials with whom he was feuding. For example, during the 2000 election, in which he was not a candidate, Huckabee led the creation of Victory 2000, a Republican campaign fund that many Republican officials said he controlled and that was separate from the state Republican Party's election effort. According to a former aide who requested anonymity, Huckabee showed reluctance to raise money for legislators with whom he butted heads and conditioned his help on continued support for his agenda.
Victory 2000 might have been less controversial had fiscal irregularities not occurred. After a Federal Election Commission audit, the state party was fined $360,000 in 2005 for misspending millions of dollars during the 2000 election. The penalty, which was the largest ever levied by the FCC on a state party, came just two years after Arkansas Republicans were forced to pay off nearly $400,000 in debt. “The only reason that the Republican Party of Arkansas was fined is because Mike Huckabee insisted on controlling the money and set up [Victory 2000] to do so,” said the aide. Huckabee has disclaimed responsibility for the fine or control of the fund.
Several people who worked with Huckabee suggested that his feuds with other government officials were made worse by his lack of enthusiasm toward the statehouse. “Look at someone like LBJ or Bill Clinton, who loved the legislative process,” said a former Huckabee aide who wished to remain nameless. “Huckabee hated that.”
Not all Arkansas Republicans hold Huckabee in such low esteem. “I think he is an exceptionally fine man, and he has an ability to get his arms around the issues,” said Rick Calhoun, a member of Huckabee's band, Capitol Offense, who left as the chair of the Arkansas Eagle Forum about a month ago. “I think he has the potential to be a great leader.”
Former Huckabee supporters say, though, that the honeymoon the former governor often enjoys with voters and supporters may not last long. “When you meet Huckabee, you think he's Ronald Reagan,” said Vigneault. “It's later on that you realize he's more Richard Nixon.”