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CAMPAIGN '08: THE REPUBLICAN RACE

His bass lines pound home a message

'Life for me was not a crystal staircase,' Huckabee says at a N.H. rally, aiming to draw contrasts with Romney.

January 05, 2008|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

HENNIKER, N.H. — He is no rock star, but Mike Huckabee took pains to prove otherwise on Friday with his electric-bass rendition of "Twist and Shout" in a New Hampshire rock band.

A day after his improbable victory in the Iowa caucuses, Huckabee used his guest stint with the band Mama Kicks to show New Hampshire that he is no typical Republican running for president.

The rock 'n' roll rally was a bit of calculated mischief by the former governor of Arkansas. Its purpose, unstated but clear, was to draw a contrast with buttoned-down rival Mitt Romney, a party establishment figure if there ever was one.

Vastly outspent by the former Massachusetts governor, Huckabee offered the crowd at New England College a pointed explanation for his win: Iowans wanted "a president who reminds them of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off" -- a sentiment shared, he said, by voters in New Hampshire.

"Quite frankly, I understand struggle," Huckabee said. "Life for me was not a crystal staircase."

In other words, Huckabee is not the sort of fellow who salts conversation with phrases like "if you will," as Romney often does.

Huckabee said his father worked two jobs but barely made enough as a mechanic and firefighter to pay the rent. Left unsaid was that his opponent's father, George Romney, was president of American Motors Corp. and governor of Michigan.

"On my mother's side of the family," Huckabee said, "I'm a generation away from dirt floors and outdoor toilets."

With Mama Kicks, Huckabee played "Mustang Sally," "Midnight Hour" and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." His bass lines pounded through the college basketball arena. Lead singer Lisa Guyer, in skintight black pants and blouse, shimmied next to Huckabee, who struck a more staid figure in a dark blazer.

Campaigning with Huckabee was Chuck Norris, the action-film star. In remarks to the crowd of several hundred, Norris cast Huckabee's call for replacing income and other taxes with a national sales tax as a chance to raise taxes on the rich, especially foreigners who buy U.S. luxury goods.

"When they go out and buy their yachts and buy their jets, make them pay for it," Norris said, drawing hoots from a cluster of teenage boys in the bleachers.

Huckabee did not entirely avoid shots at other contestants who will compete in New Hampshire's Republican primary Tuesday. In an apparent swipe at John McCain, Huckabee deplored the failed efforts of the Arizona senator and others to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Congress has fumbled the ball," Huckabee said.

But Ed Rollins, his national campaign chairman, made clear that Huckabee's No. 1 target in New Hampshire would be Romney.

As he watched from offstage as Huckabee played "Twist and Shout," Rollins said: "We're going to take Romney out."

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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