Bill Clinton, man of the manor in Chappaqua, former president, world philanthropist, taking on Janet Huckabee, woman of the beach house on the Redneck Riveria, former Arkansas first lady, rattlesnake hunter.
Oh, what a show – and one that I fear, Bill would lose.
The world knows a lot about Clinton – perhaps too much. Janet Huckabee, not really. Sure, she was on the campaign trail in 2008 when her husband ran for president the first time, but she was lost in a sea of other GOP political wives.
While that very well may be the case this time, too, with so many Republicans throwing their hats into the ring, Janet may just be poised to win the hearts of conservative Midwest and Southern women in a unique manner. Done correctly, the outspoken former first lady could just tilt the Republican primary her husband’s way.
That’s because Janet Huckabee – former preacher’s wife, mother of three and grandmother – is like a lot of women in America’s Heartland.
She recently started tweeting – a clue to me that Mike Huckabee was about to announce his White House run. He said Friday that he plans to disclose his intentions on May 5 in Hope, Ark. (Yes, that same town called Hope that Bill Clinton used as a slogan during his 1992 campaign. Both Clinton and Huckabee were born there.)
Janet’s initial tweets showed her choosing a gun with her husband for her birthday gift. That’s right, Janet, who is a self-confessed tomboy and far from a Southern belle, is a gun-toting sharp shooter. She’s duck hunted in the Arkansas delta, shot a grenade launcher at an Arkansas National Guard training hitting two out of three targets and tracked bears. Note to the Huck aides: Let Janet campaign at deer camps across the South.
When she was first lady, Janet oversaw the much-needed renovations of the governor’s mansion. While these occurred, the first family moved into a triple-wide manufactured home on the mansion grounds. Some would argue that it was a fancy mobile home but as she told The New York Times in 2000 “This is not a trailer…trailers are pulled behind a pickup truck. We are not having a trailer on the mansion grounds.” I toured their temporary home at the time and it was middle-class America on ice.
What stands out in the memory more than the color of the sofa was the way brassy, Janet ripped into a local reporter who tried to question her about the new home. She simply didn’t care that she was on-the-record or that the reporter was not happy. It’s been a few years since I’ve interviewed Janet but I can’t imagine she’s changed much. That outspokenness could be extremely refreshing especially against the glossy, scripted Bush-Clinton dynasties.
And Janet isn’t just a political wife. She also knows what it’s like to be a candidate. In 2002, she ran as the Arkansas GOP candidate for Secretary of State in 2002. Granted, that race didn’t go so well but, hey, the tough cookie gave it a shot.
Sure, a lot has to happen for Bill and Janet to spar. Mike Huckabee has to wade through a crowded Republican primary, and he has to raise a lot of money. The Clintons, I predict, will look at the Huckabees like annoying gnats that need to be swatted every so often. But they should know that to mess with Janet is like messing with a wasp’s nest in the hot summer – dangerous.
And knowing Janet the way I do, I don’t think she’s going to wait to take on the New York gloss of Bill and Hillary.
Suzi Parker, TBS’ resident mixologist and cultural editor, is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Echo Ellis: Adventures of a Girl Reporter,” “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for The Daily Beast, The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.
To schedule an interview with Suzi or book her for a speaking engagement, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.