Last Tuesday, the day of the pivotal Potomac Primary, the van carrying Mike Huckabee’s traveling press corps from Washington, D.C. to Dulles Airport ran out of gas. The former governor’s embeds spent part of Super Tuesday II huddled together in their crippled vehicle on the shoulder of the Dulles Toll Highway, trying to stay warm in the 20-degree cold.

The drama lasted only a few minutes, though; soon, another van was dispatched to “rescue” the handicapped Huck-a-truck. The reporters were herded onto the new vehicle and dropped off at Dulles without further incident. No problem. Their luggage, however, along with a few straggling Huckabee staffers, stayed aboard the original van, which was refueled and sent back on the road to rejoin the party at Dulles. But whoever had done the refueling had pumped in only a few gallons, not a full tank…and, after a few minutes, the van’s engine sputtered once more.

Yep: the Huck-a-truck was out of gas. Again.

One could read all this, of course, as a tragicomic analogy for a campaign that is figuratively and, now, literally exhausted—a metaphor for a candidate whose sputtering engine is fueled, at this point, only by fumes of faith. But Mike Huckabee doesn’t believe in metaphors. Mike Huckabee believes in miracles.
And however much his campaign may be stalling—in every sense of the word—before our eyes, the Other Man from Hope keeps finding a way to remind us where he came from. “I know people say that the math doesn’t work out,” Huckabee says. “Folks, I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those, too.”

But political reporters believe in numbers. And when they’ve looked to the numbers—in this case, the all-important delegate tallies—they’ve discovered the same thing the Huckabee campaign itself seems to know: that, given his current 241 delegates to John McCain’s 821, the former governor, at this point, will need to win 123 percent of the delegates up for grabs in the remaining contests to secure the GOP’s nomination. You don’t need to have majored in math (or miracles) to know that a miracle is, at this point, the only thing that will make Mike Huckabee the GOP nominee. The Huckaboom is Huckadoomed.

Which presents an unusual conundrum for political reporters: How do you cover a candidate who is, for all practical purposes, no longer a candidate? How do you report on a battle that’s already ended? Especially when the losing side, through delusion or faith or something in between, refuses to acknowledge the inevitability—and the current reality—of its own defeat? Huckabee isn’t a Ron Paul or a Dennis Kucinich, after all, a fringe candidate whom the press has generally treated with the polite patronage bestowed on anti-inevitability. Huckabee did have a chance, at one point; he just doesn’t any longer. (Huckabee is, in this sense, more akin to Giuliani than to Paul or Kucinich; the former mayor and the former governor have both seen their presidential chances plummet before their eyes. But, while Giuliani’s fall from political grace was precipitous, Huckabee’s has been, ironically, Darwinian: his has been a slow but steady devolution.)

Journalists covering Huckabee, then, must confront, in their work, an inherent narrative tension between what is and what is surely to be: the immediate (Huckabee’s still on the trail) versus the imminent (he won’t be for long). And that tension is compounded by the fact that Huckabee isn’t just on the campaign trail, a meek, Ron Paul-style presence that nips at the heels every once in a while to remind us of its continued existence. Rather, Huckabee has been directing the trail’s course, countering the numeric impossibility of his own nomination—determined, it seems, to give his miracle its own fighting chance to materialize—with a media blitz that would be the envy of any Hollywood starlet (not to mention any Arizona senator).

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.