They are men moving in different directions. Literally.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are among the top-tier Republican presidential prospects, but the past two weeks offered a sharp contrast in their levels of readiness, messaging and even physical health.
Each separately faced off against the Washington, D.C., press corps over that time, and even before they uttered a word, it was clear who was more physically prepared for a run at the White House.
Reporters couldn’t help but notice that Barbour had trimmed down, while Huckabee appeared to be expanding.
After a meeting with about two dozen journalists last week arranged by the Christian Science Monitor, Huckabee was asked how much weight he needs to lose to run for president, and he sheepishly replied, “About 30 pounds.”
A week later, Barbour was asked about his apparent fitness while chatting with a gaggle of reporters after a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“I have lost a little weight and I certainly needed to. And hopefully I can lose some more,” Barbour said quite seriously.
(Huckabee famously dropped 100 pounds in an anti-obesity campaign as governor.)
The Republican primary, of course, will not be decided by a scale. But physical appearance has played a significant role in presidential politics since John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon met in the first televised debate more than five decades ago.
The weight issue is just one sign that suggests Barbour is on the verge of jumping into the presidential contest, while Huckabee, who insists he is seriously considering a bid, is content to enjoy his well-paid role as a television personality and author, at least for now.
On paper there is little doubt that Huckabee has a significant advantage.
He was the first choice of 25 percent of likely GOP primary voters in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, thanks in part to his close finish and Iowa caucuses victory in 2008. Only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was in Huckabee’s ballpark, earning 21 percent. Barbour barely made the list with less than 1 percent.
Eye on the Dough
While Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has demonstrated an ability to capture the hearts of cultural conservatives, Barbour could be better positioned to tap into their wallets. He is known as a prolific fundraiser from his days leading the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association.
Barbour also has been more active in building an organization of grass-roots activists in the key early states, while Huckabee appears to be largely focused on his book tour and paid role with Fox News.