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When the Second Time Isn’t the Charm

Santorum speaks during the Faith & Freedom Coalition'’s Road to Majority Conference. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Santorum speaks during the Faith & Freedom Coalition'’s Road to Majority Conference. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

I feel bad for Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry. They are presidential retreads at a moment when anything that is more than an hour or two old is passé.  

John McCain was a retread in 2008 (having lost a bid for the GOP nomination in 2000), as was Mitt Romney four years later. Ronald Reagan was a retread in 1980, and Richard M. Nixon was one in 1968. But they’re ancient history. Times have changed. Santorum was the last conservative challenger standing against Romney in the 2012 race for the GOP presidential nomination. Given that, and given the party’s historical tendency to nominate the “next person in line,” you might think the Pennsylvania Republican would get some respect from journalists and voters as a contender in 2016. But alas, nobody seems to be rating his chances very highly.  

A June 14-18 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies found  that 4 in 10 Republican respondents said they could not see themselves supporting Santorum for the GOP nomination next year. The former senator barely registered in the survey’s Republican presidential ballot test — or in Quinnipiac University’s Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida primary polls .  

That’s the same Rick Santorum who won primaries or caucuses in 11 states (including Iowa) and finished second in another 15 states (including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin) fewer than four years ago.  

Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses and seven other contests, is doing somewhat better than Santorum in polls. While the former Arkansas governor isn’t one of the early front-runners, 18 percent of respondents in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said he was either their first or second preference for the nomination, and only 32 percent said they could not see themselves supporting him.  

Still, for a former GOP presidential contender who spent the past few years on Fox with his own program, Huckabee seems to be going nowhere fast.  

Finally, Rick Perry hopes his second presidential race will be the charm, and after his underwhelming effort in 2012, another bid this cycle can’t be much worse.  

Perry was considered by many to have the potential to rally conservatives against Romney, but the Texan performed poorly in a November debate and dropped his bid shortly before the South Carolina primary.  

Americans like to give political hopefuls a second (and sometimes third) chance, and they might be willing to give Perry another look. But given the crowd in this race and the appealing new names and faces, it’s difficult to see the former governor breaking through.  

Both Santorum and Huckabee have a niche in the Republican contest. Santorum, who served two terms in the Senate from Pennsylvania, is a cultural conservative who campaigns as someone who understands blue-collar concerns and the need to create good jobs. He stresses his success in a Democratic-leaning state (ignoring his resounding defeat in 2006) and his preparedness to lead the fight against the Islamic State terror group.  

But Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich has a similar economic message and background, and though he first won a seat in Congress in 1982 and briefly ran for president in 2000, he is more of a fresh face this year than Santorum.  

Huckabee served as governor for more than a decade. He appealed to populist, culturally traditional rural voters in his 2008 bid for the GOP presidential nomination, but free-market groups such as the Club for Growth hammered his economic positions, and upscale suburban voters never embraced him.  

There is no reason for people who didn’t gravitate toward Huckabee in 2008 to gravitate to him in 2016. He is the same person, with the same agenda. The only difference is that this year’s contest is awash with candidates, many of them first-time hopefuls who can credibly talk about bringing change and offering electability in November.  

Perry has to compete against another Texan (Sen. Ted Cruz), and unlike 2012, when Perry was the only potentially credible sitting or former governor in the Republican contest other than Romney, there are plenty of credible conservative governors in this year’s GOP race, even one from neighboring Louisiana.  

Unlike McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, Santorum, Huckabee and Perry have little reason to believe that lightning will strike if they run yet again. But the wide open nature of the Republican race has proven too tempting. Unfortunately for them, if a familiar name ends up being nominated by the GOP in 2016, it is more likely to be someone named Bush rather than Santorum, Huckabee and Perry.  


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