Mike Huckabee plays guitar and jokes about his weight on The Tonight Show.
Last night on Jay Leno, Mike Huckabee put in the best late night performance in presidential history, potentially catapulting himself to a win in Iowa tonight and gaining enough momentum to march on to victory in South Carolina. As I explained when Fred Thompson launched his campaign on late night television, these types of appearances are a powerful new strategic tool in campaigns.
On late night shows, candidates are usually able to offer their best personal narrative, and hopefully in the process, prime memories of likability and strong character. The appearance on a late night show can also generate positive news coverage and positive buzz at the office, on blogs, or among friends. Most importantly, when candidates go on late night comedy, they reach the limited number of "persuadables" left in the electorate, non-news audiences who have few other sources of information about the candidate, winning their support and most importantly in Iowa tonight, giving that added motivation to actually turn out and caucus. [This ability to bring latent supporters into the electoral process by way of entertainment and celebrity venues is on greatest display with the Obama campaign and their Oprah strategy, which I first wrote about back in September.]
Huckabee's brilliance as a communicator shouldn't be underestimated. In fact, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the leading historian of presidential communications, calls Huckabee the best she has seen since Reagan. Here's what she said in a must read interview on the Bill Moyers program (transcript):
....I haven't seen a politician who has his talent to connect with voters since Ronald Reagan. If you just listen to him on radio, there is a communication sense, a sense of him as a communicator that telegraphs an immediate identification that's really very powerful. And the question is: Does that telegraphy distract you from asking questions about who he is and what he stands for? And if so it's a net political advantage. It may not be a net advantage ultimately in the translation of governance.