Mike Huckabee to Offer a ‘Safer’ Alternative to Rush Limbaugh

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesPhoto: Chip Somodevilla/2011 Getty Images

According to Politico, mean old Rush Limbaugh will now have to compete with super nice guy Mike Huckabee for conservative talk radio listeners. This Monday, Huckabee launches a three-hour show that will play on about 200 stations nationwide. The time slot — noon to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday — matches up exactly with Limbaugh's audio juggernaut, which may or may not have been weakened in the wake of his February "slut" attack. (It seems so long ago now!)

Cumulus Media, which owns and operates the new program, is already pitching Huckabee to listeners and advertisers as the “safe alternative” to a man who has recently found himself under weeks of intense fire — not for the first time — and who some believe could be vulnerable to a challenge from someone offering a kinder, gentler conservative voice.

“Our tagline is, ‘More conversation, less confrontation’,” Huckabee told POLITICO. “I’m going to treat every guest with respect and civility. Nobody is going to come on and get into a shouting match with me. That’s just not my style.”

Apparently, Limbaugh and his people are not afraid. As Julie Talbott of Rush's syndicator, Premiere Networks, put it, "Historically, lukewarm, ‘safer’ content isn’t what attracts and retains audiences." Citing Bill O'Reilly and Senator Fred Thompson, both of whom tried and failed to beat Limbaugh at his own time slot, one GOP strategist concurred:

"If history is any guide, Huckabee will probably have a lot of trouble pulling away Rush’s loyal listeners. Rush is influential because of the size and engagement of his listeners. If he criticizes a Republican [officeholder], that office’s phones will be shut down for days with angry callers. Mike Huckabee will not have that sort of audience." 

But still others seem to think that airwave success isn't all about blowing up your congressman's land line. As another strategist told Politico, the "continued speculation" about a potential Huckabee run for president might be enough to generate interest in the show, assuming there's an audience for "a conservative message without a lot of venom and bile." Meanwhile, both sides have employed a lot of fun analogies to describe the situation, including a "Leno vs. Letterman" comparison and, via Huckabee himself, one involving breakfast foods:

“In the supermarket, there’s an aisle for cereal, and there’s probably more than one box in the cereal section. Not everybody wants Cheerios. Some people want Frosted Flakes — though I’m not saying that I’m the Frosted Flakes, maybe that’s a terrible metaphor.”

That actually seems like a pretty good one to us, assuming he's talking about unsweetened Cheerios, covered in battery acid.