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Hayes: A Merry Christmas for Huckabee

8:20 AM, Dec 21, 2007 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Des Moines, Iowa
This New York Times story is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere. It's a good look at Huckabee in Iowa. A couple of additional details suggest Huckabee's use of Christmas has been even more effective than the article implies.

At his speech in Des Moines on Wednesday, Huckabee complained, as he did in the speech featured in the Times piece, about the reaction to his mention of Jesus Christ. "If I had used the name of Jesus Christ in vain, and blurted it out in profanity, nobody would have talked about it," he said.

And as he has done at each stop over the last couple days, Huckabee ended his speech this way: "I know this is probably a very controversial thing, but may I say to you, Merry Christmas!"

Of course, saying "Merry Christmas" to Republicans in Iowa is hardly a risky thing to do. But Huckabee has effectively adopted as his bogeymen the secularists' waging so-called "War on Christmas," and he plays his willingness to say "Merry Christmas" as the ultimate act of defiance. (Is it really? On CNN's American Morning today, the two hosts signed off by saying "Merry Christmas.")

The crowd loves it. After the speech, Huckabee waded out into the crowd to shake hands of his would-be supporters. I watched for maybe two minutes and every single person he greeted looked him in the eye and said, with a knowing look, "Merry Christmas!"

I asked Dave Leeper, of Norwalk, Iowa, about his support for Huckabee. He said he'd been a Huckabee backer since the Iowa Straw Poll back in August. Why? "Because of his being a Baptist minister, being a Christian. That's been a big issue here, but we're Christians and he's one of us. We home-schooled our kids and he's not against home-schooling - he supports it!"

I asked Leeper what issue he thought was most important in determining his vote. "Illegal immigration," he said without hesitating. "We have a huge Hispanic population here and I'm not against that. But we have an illegal problem, too. There has to be background checks."

What about Huckabee's willingness to grant tuition breaks to the children of illegal aliens? "I know they say he's soft on immigration," says Leeper. "But I think that's not soft, it's just compassionate."