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Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour: A Tale of Two Souths

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While greeting reporters last week in Washington, Mike Huckabee joked about New Hampshire and his Southern roots.

Huckabee is currently on a book tour to promote his new release, "A Simple Government." He hits key 2012 states, like Iowa and South Carolina, but not New Hampshire. When asked why there were no New Hampshire stops on his book tour, he told reporters, including Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro: "Have you ever been to New Hampshire in February? It's cold up there. My Southern blood isn't acclimated."

Spoken like a true Southerner.

Huckabee has built a brand around his folksy, Southern roots that resonates with voters. He duck hunts, jokes about frying squirrel in his dorm room when he was in college and is building a multimillion-dollar beach house in the Redneck Riviera – as the panhandle of Florida is called by middle-class Southerners who vacation there.

As a Republican in a region that has been trending Reagan red since the 1980s, Huckabee could do very well in a 2012 presidential GOP Southern primary. In 2008, Huckabee came in second in the South Carolina Republican primary behind Sen. John McCain despite a lack of solid fundraising.

But Huckabee will certainly have some stiff competition for Southern votes if Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi chooses to run.

To many who do not live in the South, all Southerners may appear as if they are cut from the same Confederate cloth, but that is far from true. Huckabee and Barbour are representative of two different worlds.

Barbour is a product of the stiff, proper old South with a history of plantations, cotton, the Civil War and horrific race relations. He was born into a family with a legacy that can be traced to the state capitol in the early 1880s. Walter Leake, a Barbour ancestor, was the third governor of Mississippi as well as a U.S. senator. His paternal grandfather was a judge who held stock in the local bank and as a lawyer represented railroads. His father, who died when Barbour was 2, was a lawyer. The family was well known in Yazoo City, a town that both thrives on, and is haunted by, its Southern heritage.

Yazoo City didn't integrate its schools until 1970 – long after Barbour, who attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, had graduated from high school. The town did not shy away from its connection to the Citizens Council movement, an organization that was founded on the basis of resistance to integration. Barbour, too, hasn't shied away from the group.

In a December 2010 interview with The Weekly Standard, he said: "You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up North they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City."

While Barbour took heat for that comment, many Southerners who grew up in the same time period as Barbour, especially in the Mississippi Delta, understood what he meant. During the Civil Rights movement, the South was a place that operated in black and white.

That South still resonates today with Southerners who attended country clubs that today are still segregated socially, if not legally, by race and private schools founded by wealthy white families.

Barbour, a former powerful lobbyist with a hefty resume filled with Washington connections, is Presbyterian – a religion that is far from fire and brimstone. When Barbour was the chair of the Republican National Committee, many reporters fell under his spell because of "a generous supply of Maker's Mark in his handy RNC liquor cabinet." His state of Mississippi has thrived with casino gambling and Barbour, too, has supported it.

If Barbour is a son of the Old South, where politicians prosper because of their ancestry and fraternity connections, Huckabee is the poster child for the emerging South.

Arkansas suffers from an identity crisis. The state never had the grand plantations that were prevalent in Mississippi or a legacy of Confederate millionaires. If anything, Arkansas was as a gateway to the Wild West, a place where those who fled the Civil War landed and stayed either because they ran out of money or feared Indian Territory. Because of that history, Arkansas neither connects whole-heartedly with the proper South or the scrappy West.

Huckabee, like Bill Clinton, grew up in Hope, Arkansas, in a middle-class family. His father was a mechanic and a fireman and his mother was a clerk at a gas company.

When he was governor, he often told a story that resonated with a lot of people who grew up in Arkansas. When he was 8 years old, his father told him, "Son, the governor is coming to dedicate the new lake and make a talk and I'm going to take you down to hear him because you might live your whole life and never see a governor in person," Huckabee recalls.

"Huckabee has sneered at that Old South mentality," says Dr. Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College "He has often resented those who are in positions because of their power. It's very much indicative of the Arkansas experience and those who made their own wealth – the Tysons, Sam Walton."

A strict Baptist, Huckabee worked his way through college at Ouachita Baptist University by working at a radio station and pastoring a small church. He continued his path in the ministry, preaching at various churches in the South. In the 1980s, he encouraged the all-white Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff to accept black members. He became the president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Huckabee doesn't drink nor did he serve alcohol at events in the governor's mansion during his term. He and his wife, Janet, renewed their vows in a convenant marriage ceremony while he was governor. And Huckabee is against gambling.

Unlike Barbour who worked for the Richard Nixon campaign in 1968, Huckabee had no legacy in politics – national or local. He built his following from scratch in the early 1990s when he decided to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers – a brave move for a Republican pastor in a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic state.

Huckabee, a conservative populist, could resonate in 2012 among tea party supporters who have never dabbled in politics. He doesn't shy away from his religion or the belief that the separation of church and state is impossible. He understands grassroots mobilizing, thanks to his church background and will be able to energize the religious-right base.

But Barbour brings something much more powerful to the table. His years of political wheeling and dealing and moneyed contacts are legendary -- a plus in a crowded primary where money will make or break a candidate.

If Huckabee and Barbour choose to run, their campaigns will be a contrast of two Souths -- the emerging one of self-made success with church at its center and the fading glory of the old Confederacy with legacy and ancestry at its core.
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Huckabee is a much more likeable and seemingly capable politician than any of the conservatives i have seen advertised but he is still cut from that same southern neoconservative cloth a smarter and maybe more honorable version of the neocon idea...Barbour wow what an ativist. I have many distant relatives in Mississippi and even the most conservative amoung them seem to realize times have changed

and yes these images are probably oversimplified and hyperbolic but they are still essentially true...I grew up in southeast Texas another clash point between southern and western culture and thse archtypes while not nearly as simple and straightforward as depicted are essentially true

March 03 2011 at 9:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Y'all don't pay much attention to Ms. Parker. She's oversimplifying using hyperbole to dramatize this column. It's a fun read for Yankees and it tends to reinforce their own stereotypical ideas about Southerners. Her image of the Millionaire Confederate racists vs the hard scrabble rednecks who didn't have big antebellum plantations is overdone. Arkansas is as Southern as Mississippi or any other Southern state. They all have their differences. She too easily forgets the 1957 integration of Little Rock HS. Huck is a phony and hypocrite and not a fiscal conservative and it has nothing to do with being from Arkansas. Barbour is much more a Reagan conservative. I lived in the Jim Crow South and the pre Civil Rights Act of 1964 North. Guess what. The Yanks were just as bigoted and segregated. They just ghettoized Black people instead of making it official by statute. I used to hear the 'N' word up there much more than I ever did in the South. The schools in Newark, NJ were just as bad as any separate Black schools in the South. In 1966 Martin L. King lead marches in Chicago in favor of open housing. Here is what he said: "I have never in my life seen such hate, not in Mississippi or Alabama." Yes, he was talking about white people in Chicago Ill. Land of Lincoln. USA. It's not 1963 anymore, either in the South or the North and people need to face that fact. Especially people who didn't live through that era.

March 01 2011 at 10:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Huckabee is scary. He plays a bit too much on the good ole Southern boy image and makes the Southern people all come off as hicks without education. Then he turns around after poor mouthing it and builds a multi-million dollar home? Wake up people. You've been had enough.

February 28 2011 at 5:36 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to HEIDE's comment

How dare someone take a successful career as a public servant and use it to get paid for his opinion. Scandalous!

Seriously dude. You don't really get the point if you think he is being a hypocrite. In Arkansas, when you work yourself up from nothing you are entitled to live a good life.

March 01 2011 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Neither one of these guys cut it with me as far as foriegn policy, foriegn realations and national interests go. I've seen Barbour in full bourbon and fund raising mode and it turns me off. Huckabee and his views on evolution: a question for him. Has he ever taken antibiotics? The development of antibiotics is a full face proof of evolution. Anyone with even a modicum of a science background knows that. Consequently, I can't buy into him.

February 28 2011 at 3:21 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

the south is emerging into something like huckabee? how deflating.
what does the Barth quote mean? huckabee resents power but not money? either way, where could someone find evidence that he's not rolled up with both? he was in constant ethics trouble as governor, wasn't he?
would also like to see evidence that huckabee is a populist and not just a panderer.

February 28 2011 at 2:15 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I think Mike Huchabee is a decent guy, although I don't get the creationist position and am concern that his stance on that matter might somehow lead to a conflict in his position on the separation of church and state. Barbour is way too much of a old fashion wheeler-dealer Nixonian politican for my tasteI'm a northerner, a Democrat and a veteran, but I like Huckabee, given the other Republican choices I think right now he's the best choice.

February 28 2011 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a very interesting story. I would compare Huckabee to be a southern type Lincoln Republican. I agree with Huckabee on inclusion for everybody regardless of race or economic class. Socially, I would have to say to Huckabee lets get a cup of coffee instead lets have a beer. Overal if I was voting today in a Republican pprimary I would vote for Huckabee. Barbor would be a cool guy to talk to in the tavern about sports and every thing non politica. Barbour comes from that upper crust of southern society I dont trust just as much up here in the Midwest and the state of Illinois. If the Republican party did not have people like Huckabee I would Soh stayed a Democrat.

February 28 2011 at 11:59 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Anyone remember Mike Dukakis who ran for presadent and was defeated because of a add republicans ran. The add blasted Dukakis for parolling a black man who laiter killed a person. This add cost Dukakis the alection. Now do you remember Huckabee parolling a black man who killed five cops in a Dunking Dounut shop Do you think Huckabee can overcome this? No way

February 28 2011 at 10:41 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gallagncy's comment

It was the Al Gore campaign that originally brought up Willy Horton, and the republican Add only ran once in a small section of the country. It was an issue because the press made it one. Had they ignored it, it would have never been a problem for him. Willy Horton didn't do nearly as much damage as that ridiculous picture of Dukakis in the tank, he looked like a small child, totally out of his league.

February 28 2011 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mississippi, No.1 in poverty , arkansas no.2 in poverty out of 50 states, they will fit right in with the last two picks for presidents of the republican party

February 28 2011 at 10:29 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I am from the north and an independent and I think they are both extreme, as you said in different ways. What ever happened to the good old common sense middle and the fair and good for everyone. I from time to time watch Huckabee's show. Why would he even want to run. Barbour?

February 28 2011 at 9:09 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Donna's comment

It would just be lovely if there more like you. The extemists control both parties, while those of us that are rational and tend to fall somewhere in the middle are out of touch. Yes, we are the ones that are out of touch. Don't you just love that?

February 28 2011 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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