One way to tell how well a candidate is doing is by seeing who turns up for the press conferences and lunches they sometimes hold. At a Capitol Hill lunch Thursday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife Janet attracted a lot of the folks who wouldn’t have taken his phone call a few months ago.
Assembled for were about two dozen reporters and columnists, including some of Washington’s most liberal, from CNN “American Morning” anchor John Roberts to E.J. Dionne, liberal columnist for the Washington Post. The cast also included Paul Bedard of US News & World Report, Mort Kondracke of Roll Call and a few identifiable conservatives (such as myself and columnist Cal Thomas).
Just as things got rolling, Huckabee interrupted a questioner to wave his surprise of the day into the seats reserved for them: actor Chuck Norris and his wife Gena, there to explain his endorsement of Huckabee.
Norris — himself deeply religious — said his endorsement had been solicited by several of the other candidates, some of whom were longtime friends. The actor is very involved with helping ‘at risk’ children. His “Kickstart” program, which he began 15 years ago in Houston, has helped more than 40,000 youngsters gain discipline and respect for others by teaching them martial arts. He started looking at Huckabee when two young brothers from Oregon told him they were strongly endorsing Huckabee. Norris said he and his wife did a lot of research on the former governor and concluded he would be a “people’s president” just as Norris had been a “people’s actor.”
“I was always a ‘people’s actor: the critics hated me. For thirty years all I got was negative press from the critics but the people took to me and because of that I did 23 movies and 203 episodes of “Walker: Texas Ranger.”
Norris said it was a tough decision because both Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter are good friends.
The discussion with Huckabee was wide-ranging, but one matter stood out. He spoke — as so many of the other candidates have — about securing the borders against illegal immigration. The former governor said it was the hottest issue for voters: it comes up wherever he goes. As an issue, Huckabee said, “It’s absolutely on fire.”
But what would be the objective measure of security? I asked Huckabee what he would say was the objective measure of success in border security?
Huckabee said, “That we’d actually have a physical barrier and fence, the same kind of fence that I would have [to get through] before I can get on the airplane in my home town. That there would be some way in which I can’t just go here to there without showing some documentation and have some official reason for being able to do it. Again, the criteria of getting on an airplane in Little Rock where they know who I am — and I don’t think I pose a threat — but they still go through my luggage and I still have to walk through [the metal detector] and I still have to have a boarding pass, photo ID and the whole deal. That same criteria ought to exist on our borders.
“And I think that’s why a lot of Americans are angry. It’s more difficult to get into an office building in this city: I have to show photo ID in this city to get in most office buildings if I come to visit somebody. [Which is more] than an illegal would have to have to get across the border.”
Huckabee’s position on border security is very tough. But he is still committed to providing benefits not required by law to the children of illegal aliens. He said repeatedly that he’d stand by that position even if it cost him the presidency.
At the end of the session, I had a few moments with Chuck Norris. Why, when he has been friends with some of the other candidates for many years, did he endorse Huckabee who is entirely new to him?
Norris said our nation is in a “dire situation” and needs someone with the fire and stamina to lead. He said Huckabee had “authenticity” and that the former governor says what he means.
Norris expressed doubt that John McCain, at 72, had the stamina to “carry it through.” Fred Thompson, said Norris, “doesn’t have the fire in the gut to make it happen on the hard, long road” ahead. Rep. Duncan Hunter — another longtime Norris pal — didn’t draw those critical words, just a side comment that Hunter would make a fine cabinet officer.
With all celebrity endorsements, the question is whether and how it will affect voters. Is Norris to Huckabee as Oprah is to Obama? The veteran action star still has a large following of fans, and some influence among America’s youth. But can he turn voters from other candidates and motivate them to vote for Huckabee?
It’s almost unfair that Norris has endorsed Huckabee. There probably aren’t enough other conservatives in Hollywood to have one for each of the other Republican candidates. In a way that’s an odd comfort. Barbra Streisand endorsed Hillary. Now if Jane Fonda endorses John Edwards…