• Jan. 10, 2008 | 11:41 a.m. ET


Mike Huckabee was on Morning Joe today and I found myself stunned as I was reading his introduction in the teleprompter. "And now let's bring on Republican frontrunner..." Republican frontrunner?

This is, after all, a man we have had on our show a dozen times since last summer. We always invited him back simply because he was the best interview among the presidential candidates. He talked about Hendrix. He joked about Willie "cougar hunting." He laughed off charges that he had no chance to win.

Six months later, Mike Huckabee is leading the pack and may be laughing all the way to the nomination.

Willie, Mika and I expected the former Arkansas governor to do what other politicians do when expectations rise. We were sure he would tighten up and play it safe. But he hasn't. Instead, Huckabee continues to play it his way while moving toward the most unlikely of presidential nominations in recent Republican history. 

Does another man from Hope really have a chance of becoming the GOP nominee in St. Paul? You bet he does.

The Michigan primary is Tuesday, but the next big media event in the Republican race is South Carolina. There, Huckabee is running away from the pack with a double-digit lead. 

After South Carolina comes Florida, which may prove to be the firewall for either Rudy or Romney. But Huckabee can't be counted out there either. The Arkansas governor finds himself in second place in the Sunshine State and will get a big boost from his expected victory in South Carolina. 

After Florida comes Super Tuesday, with over half of the delegates being handed out in a single day.

Since candidates won't have the time or money to reach voters in those states on a personal basis, the national polls will be more important than ever leading up to Super Tuesday. Right now Huckabee is leading all of his GOP competitors in the latest national Gallup poll, and those numbers will only rise with strong showings in Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. That could add up to a first place showing for the former preacher on the biggest primary day of the year.

If that happens, don't be surprised to find the Republican party handing its nomination over to a Southern Baptist preacher who quotes Jimi Hendrix with reckless abandon.

Mike Huckabee is an original in American politics. And in 2008, that appears to be exactly what voters want.

Thoughts? Leave your comment here.

• Jan. 9, 2008 | 7:05 p.m. ET

The more we learn, the less we know (Joe Scarborough)

After a seemingly endless buildup to Iowa and New Hampshire, one could be tempted to say that the first two contests have cleared up very little. After all, the Democratic battle is still an Obama and Clinton affair, while the GOP race remains a five-sided gang fight.

Still, we know a few things we didn’t know this time last year. The greatest surprise for me has been the rise of Barack Obama. His early debate performances left him looking like a mid-level congressman and left me deeply skeptical. It also caused a drop in his poll numbers. But success has been good for Obama. Since winning Iowa, the junior senator from Illinois delivered two of the most stirring political speeches in a generation. He is for real and sooner or later, he will transform American politics.

We also learned that Hillary Clinton is more than a “kept” political woman. Her stunning comeback in the snows of New Hampshire has shown her to be every bit as resilient as her husband. That may be bad news for Obama but it is worse news for Republicans who believed Senator Clinton would make an easy target this fall. 

John Edwards, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have learned that between Clinton and Obama, there is not enough oxygen in the room to foster a third candidacy. For all practical purposes, Mr. Edwards’ campaign will end in South Carolina later this month.

On the Republican side we have also learned a few things.

Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee is for real. The guy with a funny last name tore through Iowa like a prairie fire. And despite being outspent and outworked in New Hampshire, Huckabee’s vote total in that state was ahead of a movie star and America’s mayor. He now looks forward to South Carolina and Florida where he is ahead in most polls.

Rudy Giuliani has not been as successful, with poor showings in the first two contests. But Rudy has always had his sights set on Florida so his future will be determined by how many votes he pulls in on January 29th. Giuliani must finish in one of the top two slots to stay alive. 

Governor Mitt Romney also finds himself backed into a corner despite the fact that his second place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire are better than any of the other candidates’ showings thus far. We heard Romney had to win Iowa. Then we heard Romney had to win New Hampshire. Now we hear he has to win Michigan. And after he finishes second there, I’m sure we will hear that he has to win South Carolina. But the fact is that Romney is the only GOP candidate in the race who has the resources to go the distance. With the other Republicans seeing their fortunes bounce up and down for one contest to another, Romney can afford to stay in this race until he finds his own breakthrough state. And if that state is Florida, expect him to be the frontrunner on the GOP side going into Super Tuesday.

Fred Thompson remains viable despite his pathetic performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. A victory in South Carolina could put the former movie star back in the hunt for his party’s nomination. But it is more likely Thompson will tank in that state and drop out on January 19th.

Senator John McCain has taught us all a thing or two about comebacks. While Clinton was down and out for the five days after her Iowa collapse, McCain has been given up for dead for the past six months. Smart Republican strategists believe he has what it takes to win it all but I find that hard to believe, given his liberal voting record on immigration and tax issues. The Arizona senator was one of two Republicans who voted against George Bush’s tax cuts, and as too many GOP voters know, he also teamed up with Ted Kennedy to push a bill that his base considered an amnesty plan.

It seems the more we learn about this GOP field, the less we know.

Thoughts? Leave your comment here.

Dec. 28, 2007 | 4:48 p.m. ET

How will Bhutto's assassination affect the elections? (Joe Scarborough)

A week ago, most political pundits were talking about whether Mike Huckabee was trying to establish a theocratic state in America by wishing Americans a Merry Christmas with the help of a white cross.

What a difference a week makes.

The assassination of Bhutto has reminded voters once again that they live in dangerous times. That may or may not prove to be bad news for Governor Huckabee, but it is sure to lift the hopes of those in the Clinton, McCain and Giuliani camps.

On the Democratic side,  Barack Obama's limited experience in Washington is sure to make some Iowa and New Hampshire  voters uneasy.  His stiff performance in front of cameras following the assassination did not help his cause.

On the Republican side, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are the obvious beneficiaries of the international crisis. The only question is whether Mike Huckabee's lack of foreign policy experience will drain enough votes to hand Iowa to Mitt Romney.

Whether the issue will continue to resonate beyond the first two contests remains to be seen, but for now it looks like a last minute surprise is going to shape the most important national election since George Bush defeated John Kerry. That election was also influenced by a last minute surprise from Pakistan— then in the form of a taped message from Osama bin Laden.

We will know soon whether Ms. Bhutto's assassination will have a similar impact. I suspect it will by helping Clinton and will narrow Huckabee's margin of victory.

Thoughts? Leave your comment here.

Dec. 28, 2007 | 4:34 p.m. ET

A democratic Pakistan or a stable Pakistan? (Joe Scarborough)

Today on Morning Joe, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said America's leaders should demand the removal of Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf.

Senator Chris Dodd could not have disagreed more.

The interparty debate underlines the bigger question facing U.S. policy makers as they chart their way through choppy waters in Pakistan: Do we force an election in the name of democracy even if that election destabilizes the country?

Simply put, what is more important to America?  A democratic Pakistan or a stable Pakistan?

The answer is a no-brainer for Dodd. The Connecticut senator believes America must promote stability in a country that possesses nuclear weapons and tens of millions of radicals who see Osama bin Laden as a hero. That may not be consistent with George Bush's agenda of promoting democracy across the world, but we have learned the hard way that free elections do not always guarantee a more stable world.

I cast my vote with Dodd on this issue.

Thoughts? Leave your comment here.

Dec. 28, 2007 | 4:01 p.m. ET

Pakistan crisis can only help GOP, Giuliani and McCain (Joe Scarborough)

The instability unleashed in Pakistan this week may not ultimately help Republicans hold the White House in 2008, but it will put a sharper focus on international affairs in the early presidential contests. That's good news for Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. It's may also be bad news for GOP candidates who have distanced themselves from George W. Bush's foreign policy record.

While Democratic candidates and the New York Times editorial board might collectively groan at the suggestion, Republican candidates can gain points with a beleaguered GOP base by defiantly suggesting that Mr. Bush's policies are beginning to yield tangible results across the world.

In Iraq, the situation on the ground is improving for the first time since the Golden Mosque was blown up in Sumarra almost two years ago.

Zarqawi is dead. Al-Qaida in Iraq is losing strength by the day. Osama bin Laden and his No. 2 man spend their days cursing their Muslim brothers across the region. And for all the talk of Bush misreading the Iraqi street, it has been al-Qaida leaders who have spent the past few years blowing up wedding receptions, killing grandmothers in public markets and gunning down students walking to school.

Osama bin Laden may be the one who has overplayed his hand by such actions, and as a result al-Qaida is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Republicans can also credit George Bush's surge with stabilizing the military situation in Iraq (for now.)

Moving east to Iran, Americans learned this month that the Iranians decided to suspend their nuclear weapons program in 2003. GOP candidates should ask their audiences whether they think it was a coincidence that Iran decided to dump their nuke program the same year Libya's madman stopped developing WMDs — which also happened to be the same year George Bush decided to invade Iraq.

How many Republican primary voters in Iowa will really believe that was just a coincidence? Not many.

North Korea has also taken positive steps toward dismantling their nuclear program. Why? In part because Mr. Bush stubbornly refused to deal with that rogue regime unless five other nations got involved.

Bush got his way and the world got North Korea to the table.

GOP candidates should also remind their audiences that all three members of Bush's "Axis of Evil" have defanged to varying degrees.

Praising Mr. Bush on the primary campaign trail makes sense, especially while making a pitch to party members that still see their president in a favorable light. Whether that strategy holds water this summer depends on whether the situation on Iraq continues to improve.

Betting on that troubled country over the past few years has proven to be a risky proposition. We will see if the president's luck continues to improve over the next six months.

Thoughts? Leave your comment here.

Watch 'Morning Joe' on MSNBC TV, 6-9 a.m. ET weekdays on MSNBC.


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