At the end of the inaugural episode of his eponymous radio show today, Mike Huckabee asked, "Is there a part of the public that wants to hear both sides of the story and hear intelligent thoughtful discussion?"
Huckabee must be hoping so. The conservative commentator has added the job of daytime talk radio host to his resume, which already includes past gigs as Fox News host, presidential candidate and governor.
At a time when seemingly anyone can be on the radio, Huckabee is betting that conservatives will find his tempered approach to talk radio more appealing than the ambushing style of Rush Limbaugh.
Huckabee's show airs from noon to 3 p.m. daily, the same time slot that "El Rushbo" occupies daily.
OTUS listened to both AM programs today to see how Huck would differentiate himself. The difference was clear from the start.
Limbaugh, who stole headlines recently with his bombastic crusade against a Georgetown student who testified to Congress about birth control, costing him scores of sponsors, opened his show by predicting President Obama's downfall as seen through his approval ratings. He then pivoted to talking about CNN and the N word, and Tiger Woods's performance.
Limbaugh brought up the "war on women" that has taken center stage of late in the presidential election. "It is being directed from the White House," Limbaugh proclaimed.
Meanwhile, Huckabee spent little time dithering as his first-ever guest on the show, Mitt Romney, called in. "Congratulations on the new show," Romney told Huckabee, a rare conservative icon who didn't endorse a candidate in the primary.
After Romney's short segment, conservative commentator Dick Morris arrived to talk about Obamacare. And as Huckabee mentioned that Newt Gingrich has pledged to support Romney once he's the nominee, the behind-the-scenes operators played a parody of the "Friends" theme in which a singer declares, "Newt will be there for you."
There were no tirades or angry moments, and it was at least a little funny at times.
Back on Limbaugh's set, the Republican fire-starter was pontificating at length about James O'Keefe's new pseudo-journalistic venture in which a man tricks a volunteer at a polling station into giving him Attorney General Eric Holder's ballot without showing any identification.
"O'Keefe has brilliantly exposed the fallacy in not requiring a photo ID," Limbaugh declared.
Rush transitioned to a bit on the developments in the Trayvon Martin case, but sooner rather than later came back to O'Keefe's production. "It's excellent stuff," Limbaugh said after repeating what O'Keefe had done.
Maybe the trickiest part of talk radio is finding material to discuss for three hours. Limbaugh has no script for his show (or no Teleprompter, as he might joke), and he often repeats himself line for line, getting louder or taking more breaths to emphasize his points. He also draws one narrative line through nearly all of his topics — conservative causes and reasons to distrust Obama.
After his appraisal of O'Keefe, for example, Limbaugh returned to talking about the "Obama economy," women voters and why, he said, Obama hates capitalism.
Huckabee has adopted a more moderate tone and asks more questions rather than answering them. He hosted a half-dozen guests on his show. Next up was the GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who wished Huckabee "Good luck."
Then it was time for an advertisement, one of many, which Huckabee read live. This one was for a mobile app called "Go to My PC." The application "turns your iPad or iPhone into your computer!" Huckabee declared happily.
Then came the callers. A guest named Mike told Huckabee that "it's great to have a different opinion and a different person on the radio." Shortly after, a man's voice laid over music advertised Huckabee's show with the slogan, "More conversation, less confrontation."
On the confrontation side, Limbaugh was setting his sights on the Los Angeles Times over a story about gas prices and a general sense that people have been dealing with financial hardships for so long that it's become part of their lives. Limbaugh said the story was so repulsive it was "worthy of NBC," and said sardonically of the mainstream media, "God bless them."
A caller named Nick joined the show, talking about the recent monthly unemployment report. Limbaugh used the point as a launching pad to deride government overreach. "They're trying to make you accept less," he warned. "Once the door's open, there's no going back at all."
Next on Limbaugh's agenda was a message to "all of you libs out there" who he said want to prevent smoking. Tax revenue from cigarette sales, he said, help fund children's health programs — ergo, smokers are making children's health better.
"I've said it before; I'll say it again. I think cigarette smokers deserve a medal," he said. "Without them and their purchase of tobacco products, there wouldn't be the money to fund children's health care programs."
Huckabee wasn't interested in preaching theories. After a tribute to Mike Wallace, the legendary "60 Minutes" newsman who died Saturday, Huckabee read off another ad — for stamps.com, "You don't have to stand in line at the post office" — and welcomed a conservative economist to the show to talk about the importance of marriage and family.
He then spent a significant amount of time on a documentary about bullying, interviewing a handful of guests related to the film and the issue. One was a woman whose 13-year-old son killed himself after being bullied.
Huck closed out his show by talking with a guest about the state of the media, an area of the political arena in which he has traveled thoroughly. As he wrapped up, the new radio host said his show is a place "where there is conservatism and common sense." Limbaugh, meanwhile, was telling his listeners that he was "trying to safeguard and protect your freedom."
Many conservatives have tried to grab a significant part of Limbaugh's loyal audience, but none has succeeded. Huckabee is a unique host in that he's already well versed in media, in addition to having conservative credentials on an official level. His first show included legitimately interesting guests, but Mitt Romney won't be coming on to talk at the top of the show every day.
If there really is a group of conservative voters who want to listen to a like-minded talk show host who doesn't specialize in yelling or conspiring, then the bass-playing right-winger might have a new home in the afternoon.