Huck­abee pres­i­den­tial hopes hurt by slay­ings

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW

For­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee’s hopes for the 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion have been dealt a ma­jor blow by his 9-year-old de­ci­sion to com­mute the sen­tence of Mau­rice Clem­mons — the man sus­pected of killing four po­lice of­fi­cers near Seat­tle early Nov. 29.

“It will be ex­tremely dam­ag­ing,” said Diana Banis­ter, a Wash­ing­ton-based pub­li­cist for Repub­li­can causes and candidates. “His GOP pri­mary ri­vals will use it to their ad­van­tage against him.”

Mr. Huck­abee, who has led in some early polls for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, faced sim­i­lar ques­tions dur­ing the 2008 Iowa Repub­li­can cau­cuses over the case of Wayne Du­Mond, an­other Arkansas con­vict to whom he of­fered clemency in 1997 and who sub­se­quently was con­victed of mur­der­ing a woman in Mis­souri.

“It will be the Repub­li­can ver­sion of the Wil­lie Horton is­sue that GOP sur­ro­gates used against Mas­sachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the un­suc­cess­ful Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 1988,” Ms. Banis­ter said.

Mr. Dukakis’ de­ci­sion to fur­lough Horton, who com­mit­ted rape and bat­tery while free from prison, was promi­nently played up in ads by Vice Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush on his way to a decisive victory in the 1988 cam­paign.

“I’ve al­ways thought Huck­abee is prob­a­bly not a con­ser­va­tive,” said New York-based Repub­li­can cam­paign con­sul­tant Jim McLaugh­lin. “Whether it’s im­mi­gra­tion, taxes or now this — he’s shown re­ally poor judg­ment.”

Many con­ser­va­tive Web sites also have taken Mr. Huck­abee to task in the wake of the Wash­ing­ton state slay­ings.

“This is go­ing to be ex­tremely prob­lem­atic for Gov. Huck­abee,” wrote RedS­tate.com con­trib­u­tor Erick Erick­son.

“Of course, a lot of folks said [Du­Mond] was ‘Mike Huck­abee’s Wil­lie Horton.’ How many Wil­lie Hor­tons can one man have?” he asked.

Mr. Huck­abee, in a state­ment is­sued Nov. 29, ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies but de­flected blame from his 2000 de­ci­sion that ex­pe­dited the release of Clem­mons, who re­mained at large Mon­day de­spite a mas­sive man­hunt.

“Should he be found to be re­spon­si­ble for this hor­ri­ble tragedy, it will be the re­sult of a se­ries of fail­ures in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in both Arkansas and Wash­ing­ton State,” the state­ment said.

In a “Fox News Sun­day” TV in- ter­view, the for­mer Arkansas gov­er­nor — who hosts his own show on Fox News Chan­nel — sounded un­de­cided whether to re­peat his 2008 bid for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. He said he was “less likely” to run in 2012 be­cause he was en­joy­ing host­ing his tele­vi­sion show.

In 2008, Mr. Huck­abee was the tar­get of crit­i­cism from cer­tain evan­gel­i­cal leaders, neo­con­ser­va­tives and tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tives for what be­came known as his “Wayne Du­Mond prob­lem,” as well as his sus­pect po­si­tions on such is­sues as Is­lamic ter­ror­ism, il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and taxes.

His for­giv­ing na­ture and seem­ingly nat­u­ral benef­i­cence have come back to haunt him po­lit­i­cally on more than one oc­ca­sion.

Democrats have been con­tent to let the press and Mr. Huck­abee’s con­ser­va­tive al­lies ex­co­ri­ate him.

“The Democrats would love to see him as the Repub­li­cans’ nom­i­nee,” said Bill Pas­coe, a vet­eran Repub­li­can cam­paign op­er­a­tive for 20 years. But, he added, the lib­eral, Demo­cratic-lean­ing Huff­in­g­ton Post “is killing him as we speak. Some­body at Huff­in­g­ton will need com­mu­ta­tion af­ter this be­cause they are com­mit­ting po­lit­i­cal mur­der.”

Mr. Pas­coe said for­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum of Penn­syl­va­nia, a Catholic and a fa­vorite of evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers, may be best po­si­tioned to ben­e­fit from Mr. Huck­abee’s lat­est po­lit­i­cal woes.

“A San­to­rum bid, were it to take place, would be premised on a strong show­ing in Iowa, where evan­gel­i­cals are big,” he said. “In any event, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee will want to see Huck­abee as nom­i­nee and then do a Wil­lie Horton on him.”

One prob­lem for Mr. Huck­abee is that he com­muted Clem­mons’ sen­tence, ac­cord­ing to the Seat­tle Times, “over the protests of pros­e­cu­tors.”

Mr. Huck­abee ar­gued that Clem­mons, in get­ting au­thor­i­ties to com­mute his orig­i­nal sen­tence, be­came el­i­gi­ble for pa­role, which the pa­role board then granted him. Even when the au­thor­i­ties later ar­rested him for pa­role vi­o­la­tions and rein­car­cer­ated him for what was to be his full term, pros­e­cu­tors elected to drop the very charges for which he was be­ing held.

Clem­mons also had been jailed on a child-rape charge in Wash­ing­ton but re­port­edly was re­leased on bond a week ago.

Mr. Huck­abee ar­gued that Clem­mons, de­spite demon­strat­ing crim­i­nal and psy­chotic be­hav­ior, was not locked up by ei­ther state.

The po­lit­i­cal dam­age, com­bined with the lin­ger­ing fall­out from the Du­Mond case, al­ready may have been done.

Last year, many on the right made life dif­fi­cult for Mr. Huck­abee on a se­ries of is­sues. Con­ser­va­tives com­plained that, as Arkansas gov­er­nor from 1996 to 2007, he presided over one of the largest tax in­creases the state had seen.

But the folksy style of the or­dained South­ern Bap­tist min­is­ter has also proved po­tent on the stump, and he fin­ished sec­ond to even­tual Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Sen. John McCain in the race for del­e­gates in 2008.

KATIE FALKEN­BERG/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Re­flec­tion on him? For­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee is likely to face po­lit­i­cal at­tacks over his com­mu­ta­tion of a man sus­pected of killing four po­lice of­fi­cers.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wil­lie Horton, a con­victed killer who raped a woman while part of a prison fur­lough pro­gram, be­came a po­lit­i­cal weapon against Demo­crat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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