When actor and martial-arts icon Chuck Norris formally backed former Arkansas Gov. for the Republican nomination last month, the endorsement gave campaign reporters, bloggers and political satirists something fun to chew on amid all the "real" news of the race. Perhaps a few eyebrows were raised when Huckabee himself, who has developed a reputation for being one of the most jovial candidates in the race, gave Norris a forum on his Web site to tout his support and solicit donations. But few could have anticipated what came next: In Iowa this week, the Huckabee campaign used the Norris endorsement as the launchpad for its broadcast advertising campaign.
The 60-second ad, which debuted in the Hawkeye State on Monday, features witty repartee between the former governor and the former "Texas Ranger." In something of a parody of ads run by all of the top GOP contenders in the race, Huckabee begins with his plan to secure the border -- "Two words: Chuck Norris."
The ad then goes back and forth between Huckabee's facetious "facts" about Norris (for example: "There is no chin behind Chuck Norris's beard, only another fist.") and the actor's serious praise for Huckabee's stance on guns and taxes and his reputation as a "principled, authentic conservative."
Lest anyone call this an endorsement (oops), Huckabee sets the record straight: "Chuck Norris doesn't endorse -- he tells America how it's going to be." The ad is, of course, all in good fun. Appearing on "FOX News Sunday" this weekend, Huckabee acknowledged that "it probably doesn't convince anybody" about his candidacy, but it's designed to generate interest by "getting a lot of attention, driving people to our Web site."
Norris could be a lucrative buzz-generator for Huckabee, who has been surging in national and Iowa polling. The "Walker, Texas Ranger" star re-entered the pop culture zeitgeist in 2004 when comedian Conan O'Brien began regularly airing clips of "Walker" on his late-night talk show. The popular recurring skit is credited with spawning ChuckNorrisFacts.com, a clearinghouse for outrageous "facts" and non sequiturs about the actor, including those used in the Huckabee ad. Airing just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, the spot is well-positioned as a topic of dinner table conversation.
But how will it play in Iowa, where Republicans remain restless about their options ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses? Unlike the Democratic race, which has had its fair share of candidate-generated humor, the Republican primary campaign has been a starkly serious affair, reflecting the dark mood of conservatives in the current political climate.
On one hand, voters may appreciate Huckabee's willingness to poke fun at himself and lighten the mood of the race ahead of the holiday season. But he may also run the risk of appearing too flippant at a time in the nation's history that many voters view as deadly serious. "What we want to do is to, first of all, show that running for president is serious business but that a person ought to have a little fun doing it," Huckabee explained on Sunday, suggesting that future ads would delve into his biography and policy positions.