Scaled Down

(By Danny Johnston -- Associated Press)
By Robin Givhan
Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's virtually impossible to look at Mike Huckabee without thinking: 100 pounds. This average-size man working the crowd and chugging bottled water in the back of an SUV lost more than 100 pounds. In an era of "The Biggest Loser," "Celebrity Fit Club" and "Return to Fat Camp," this accomplishment is practically heroic.

Popular culture demands that one pause and marvel at the feat. (Opponents will undoubtedly begin to question the loss and argue: He's just dressing slimmer.) The admiration is quickly followed by two questions: How'd he lose the weight? And how will he fare on a campaign trail lined with pork chops on a stick?

Huckabee has answered the first question. In 2005, he published a weight-loss book, "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork." He runs marathons and speaks of the virtues of Splenda.

Because Huckabee has proselytized about the rapture of weight loss, he's in the unenviable position of being the candidate whose actual body -- rather than the clothes he drapes on it -- is subject to a level of scrutiny so far unseen on a campaign trail. Would a weekly Huckabee weigh-in be too much (just to make sure he persevered through the corn dogs and pie)?

Huckabee -- all doe eyes, dimples and Shar-Pei brow -- has the expressive face of a man perpetually astonished and amused. He also has the slump-shouldered stance of someone accustomed to carrying a much heavier load.

While many people would consider his life-altering weight loss an excuse to have a total makeover, he doesn't appear to have even gotten a new haircut. He wears the same conservative suits that served him as a preacher. He looks as though he simply shrank.

His style is solidly appropriate and modestly polished. It can take a long time to get used to having a new body. Until then, there's a tendency to continue dressing as if it were the old one. One can see traces of that in Huckabee's wardrobe. His suit jackets sometimes look as though they were cut for a larger man. His pants seem extra roomy.

Huckabee -- the name gets caught in the throat and then ricochets off the tongue -- has a single distinguishing accessory: his bass guitar. He pulls it out on special occasions, the way a bland-looking woman might pull out an expensive "it" handbag. Hanging from the shoulder, both serve as evidence of an indulgent side. They're a way of announcing: I'm with it!

People infer certain things about those who have lost the amount of weight Huckabee has. They are assumed to be people of exemplary self-control and willpower. Their success is spoken of in spiritual terms. No one is surprised when they owe much of their success to divine inspiration.

Huckabee, who has attributed his stamina to God's intervention, may not look like the most powerful man in the room. He certainly isn't the most stylish. But he very well may be the one people view as the most miraculous.

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