SAN DIEGO — According to 19-year-old University of California at Irvine student Jared Smith, who is throwing his support behind former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for president, "You need momentum — that's the name of the game in these races. You have to go for a candidate who is going to care about you the most, and I think that's Huckabee, for me."
Momentum is certainly one thing that continues to propel Huckabee's campaign — and MTV News has been following the candidate on the campaign trail to see that momentum build firsthand. One of the four remaining hopefuls contending for the Republican Party's nomination, Huckabee arrived at his first event — a fundraiser at a private Newport Beach, California, home — since placing fourth in Tuesday's Florida primary. He had finished just behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who subsequently withdrew from the race before endorsing current front-runner Senator John McCain.
However, the vibe in Newport Beach was far from defeated. A crowd of 100 or so assembled under a tent, where they waited to hear the words of the former pastor.
Huckabee spent the first 20 minutes or so in the reporter circle, answering questions ranging from the conflict in Iraq to his FairTax proposals to immigration. When MTV News asked about young voters, and their draw to his campaign, Huckabee responded, "One thing I've got that none of the other candidates do is the Stephen Colbert bump. I've also promised him the vice-presidential slot when I become the nominee, and I think a lot of people see that that will be the seminal moment in American politics, when we're really able to take the country in a whole new direction."
Huckabee often begins his answers with a joke, which plays to his "likeability" factor, one he's been associated with since he first decided to run for president little more than a year ago. He then went on to talk about his tax- and economic-reform ideas, which he said will bring about positive change for America's youth.
Huckabee recognized the significance young voters have in this election better than perhaps any other Republican candidate. While he may not be as popular with young voters as, say, Senator Barack Obama, he certainly has a bigger following with the under-30 set than any of his Republican competition — which is something that helped him win the Iowa caucus last month, and what might help him on Super Tuesday, when 23 states will cast their votes for the remaining Democratic and Republican presidential nominees. Huckabee is banking on pulling off big wins in Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Alabama.
The notion of a young Republican draws a bit of a paradoxical image, as we tend to think of young voters as advocates of progressive politics, change and liberal social policy. However, there is a new young-conservative movement in America, the emergence of which was abundantly clear at Thursday's Huckabee gathering.
"I like him because he is a Republican and a former Baptist minister, and I agree with his social policies on abortion and gay rights," said Molly Glasby, a high school student. The Huckabee event was the only political rally or candidate speech we've been to, thus far, that started off with a prayer. Watching several young voters bow their heads, reciting the invocation, made it all the more clear just how present the young-conservative movement truly is, even in a town located not too far from Los Angeles.
However, not all young Republicans are interested in Huckabee for his social conservatism. One of the most unique and, for some, compelling aspects of the Huckabee campaign is the FairTax.
"I'm so excited about the FairTax, [because] you get your whole paycheck — it's a consumption tax," said Nick Garzilli, a zealous Huckabee fan and a self-proclaimed one-issue voter. For young people like Nick, who are getting their first paychecks, FairTax can be an extremely appealing policy.
As Huckabee explained to MTV News, "My daughter came home with her first paycheck and asked me where all of her money went." With the FairTax policy, income tax would be eliminated, as would the Internal Revenue Service, and instead, a consumption tax would be instituted, so that people would be taxed on what they buy instead of what they earn.
FairTax also brings the economic policies of candidates to the table and, for many, makes Huckabee's very attractive. As Jared Smith told MTV News, "I pay taxes like everyone else, and I think that Mike Huckabee has the best economic stance of any of the candidates, Democrat or Republican."
While Smith, in fact, used to be a Democrat, and is more socially liberal than Huckabee, issues such as national security, the economy and his love of the "patriotism" of the Republican Party have drawn him to the Huckabee camp. Perhaps Huckabee has made generally "older generation" issues such as taxes and national security relevant to the nation's youth, and thus has garnered their support with greater luck than McCain or former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who are ahead of Huckabee in the polls but lagging in popularity among young voters.
Thursday brought MTV News a few obstacles and challenges, as we tried to stay on Huckabee's trail. On an early flight bound for San Francisco, where we were hoping to get a one-on-one with Huck, we were delayed for more than an hour and would be too late for our interview. Finally, after getting ahold of the Huckabee camp, we heard that he was to be in San Diego later in the day and that driving there would be our best chance of catching him. So we exited our northbound flight, piled into a car and headed south to San Diego, hoping to get a few minutes of Huckabee's time.
We tracked him down and finally got our one-on-one, during which we asked him about both the importance of young voters and the issues that matter to them, including the environment, economic policy and gay marriage.
When asked what advice he'd give to young men and women who are struggling with their sexuality, Huckabee said people need to be true to themselves, "but also realize that every decision you make is an important decision that will affect not just your life now, but your life in the future. Relationships ought to be something that bring people together for life partners. The deepest hurt you see in a human being is when they totally give themselves to someone and their trust and love is betrayed. You also need to realize it's a very mature decision that a person ought to enter into, and even one's sexuality — it's a great gift, a wonderful treasure. Even the use of one's own physical body in passions always needs to be in the context of a true relationship, where people have respect for one another and respect for themselves."
Huckabee claimed he wants to take a more responsible approach to conservation and the environment. "I do support cap and trade, which worked for acid rain, but we ought to be oil-independent and oil-free in 10 years," he said. "It's ambitious, but we need to find environmentally friendly, viable, alternative sources of energy that we can produce domestically and that provide for us a renewable and sustainable kind of energy supply."
Huckabee, who plays bass in a band called Capitol Offense, even mentioned he'd like to see his act open up for the recently reunited Led Zeppelin.
"Most of the bands I'd really like to open up for are out of business," he confided. "If you could help my band open up for the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, I'd probably come out and endorse MTV as the official channel of America."
Perhaps the polls indicate that Huckabee will not get the Republican nomination this election season. However, in his presence, polls are quickly forgotten as his momentum, hope and excitement overwhelm the room. When asked about the sentiment that there is currently a two-man race between Romney and McCain for the nomination, Huckabee confidently stated, "I'm not a quitter. ... You can't always win the game, but one way to surely lose is to walk off the field. ... I'm still here."
He then joked, "People are saying it's a two-man race, and if so, I just want to say, John McCain and I will be there till the very last moment." With a roar of laughter from both reporters and his audience, it was again apparent that one thing the Huckabee campaign is not missing is momentum.