Ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former and likely future presidential candidate, sounded like a would-be RV enthusiast as he entertained a crowd of about 400 diners at the RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards last Wednesday (Oct. 7) at a dinner held in conjunction with the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) International Convention & Expo, at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
In fact, Huckabee — a two-time Arkansas chief executive who made a strong bid for the Republican nomination during the 2008 presidential election —credited an RV dealer for resuscitating his presidential campaign in its early stages.
“In the summer of 2007,” he said, “we were just about on fumes and were having to make a decision whether we would go ahead and go all the way to the Iowa straw poll — which was going to be a turning point for us. We were just about to the point where we had another week’s worth of funds, and then we were going to have to probably close up shop.
“Jack Sizemore, from Amarillo, Texas, one of your fellow RV dealers … has been a friend of mine for some 30-plus years. Well, Jack said ‘I’ll host a fundraiser for you in Amarillo.’ That was the summer of 2007. And it was that particular event in his home — it wasn’t huge like it was a multimillion-dollar fund-raiser — but it was enough. It kept us on our feet for another three weeks and kept us in the race. And we went on to come in second in the straw poll. That shook out several of the others, and we went on to win the Iowa caucuses and about eight or nine other states before finally Sen, McCain captured the nomination.”
A rumored contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Huckabee won a straw poll taken at the Value Voters Summit, an annual gathering of Christian conservatives, in September in Washington, D.C., easily outdistancing a field that included Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Alaska chief executive Sarah Palin and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
A congenial celebrity to whom the industry crowd seemed to gravitate, the former Razorback governor followed his ’08 presidential bid with a nationwide tour to promote his fifth book ”From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 STOPS to Restoring America’s Greatness.” He’s also enhanced his celebrity status with a stint as host of the popular weekly show, “Huckabee,” on the Fox News Channel where the pundit’s conservative views resonate with many conservative Americans.
While the former Baptist pastor did share some of those conservative views with his audience, however, he didn’t spend the evening hammering the Democrats. Instead, it was his recollections of campaign motorhoming, mixed with a folksy blend of opinion and storytelling, that prompted repeated applause from the dinner crowd.
“In 2002, when I was running (for re-election) for governor, we bought an RV, a Class A diesel pusher,” he recalled. “We used that thing the whole year, I lived in it, slept in it overnight — we parked in RV parks — it was the greatest experience of my life. The best part was that I could take my dog with me, and the whole staff said, ‘You are so much more calm and wonderful to be around when you’re in that RV because the dog is with you and the dog just keeps your equilibrium set.’”
Huckabee went on to use a Class C coach during his presidential campaign, and noted that motorhomes also were put to good use not only during previous book tours but also one planned for November to introduce his latest tome. “The reason I tell you this is because I don’t want you to think that for me this is just a speech. I absolutely appreciate … how much an important part of the fabric of American life the RV industry is.”
Huckabee, likewise, noted the relationship between the economic health of the RV industry and the country at large. “Most of us know that one of the first industries to feel the pain of a downturned economy is the RV industry, and one of the first to be an indicator that it is starting to come back will be the RV industry,” he said. “When recent numbers in the news started reporting that sales and manufacturing are beginning to rebound, frankly, that was great news — not just for your industry. That was great news for all of America. And I’m hoping that those numbers continue because it’s in all of our best interests to have an economy that once again lets families enjoy the time that they can spend together.”