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What does a politician do in an Iowa ice storm?

December 12, 2007 |  8:08 am

Outside of transmission trouble on nearby Interstate 80, there wouldn't seem to be much reason to stop in Van Meter, Iowa, (Pop. 866) on a frigid December day. Or a blistering humid one in August, for that matter.

But when a massive ice storm virtually paralyzed presidential campaigning across much of Iowa Tuesday, new Republican frontrunner Mike Huckabee was found by The Times' Seema Mehta enjoying himself immensely in the tiny town. His half-dozen campaign stops for the day had been canceled and Huckabee had to hang around the Hawkeye state another day anyway for today's final GOP Iowa debate to be broadcast on Fox News and CNN this morning at 11 Pacific time.

So the former Arkansas governor, an avid baseball fan -- albeit for the St. Louis Cardinals -- made an impromptu visit to a baseball museum in Van Meter honoring the town's most famous citizen, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who just happens to have endorsed Huckabee. What a coincidence!

A gawky farmboy with a freckled face, Feller came out of the Iowa cornfields in the 1930s 1940s, took the train east and pitched his way into Cleveland Indians history with a fastball that was considerably quicker than even the worst speeder out on the interstate, which had not been invented when Feller left.

The Iowa phenomenon was one-quarter of the Big Four, one of the era's most formidable starting quartet of pitchers -- Feller, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia and Early Wynn -- who for years dominated play in their city's windy old Municipal Stadium. (Before his retirement in 1956, Feller, in fact, once signed an autograph out by the bullpen there for an awed young fan who would go on to become a political blogger. But that's another story.)

Huckabee toured the Van Meter museum with Feller, pausing to marvel at historic baseball artifacts, including a wooden bat signed by Babe Ruth.

“Believe me, I’ve had more fun today than I normally do on the campaign trail,” Huckabee told the aging athlete.

Of course, this being the presidential season, even a Baptist preacher couldn't resist the temptation of throwing a little dig at one of his opponents, Mitt Romney, a Boston Red Sox fan who recently was off by one year when he mentioned his team's World Series drought that ended in 2004.

“I was in the stadium," Huckabee boasted, "the night when Boston beat St. Louis in St. Louis and won the World Series and broke the 86 -- it was 86, not 87, Mitt – 86-year losing streak.”

"It was incredible," Huckabee added. "And it was about the fifth inning that it occurred to me that, you know, I'm hoping the Cardinals win. The Cardinals may not. [I’m] sitting there thinking, but you know what, if Boston wins, I mean I’m going to be sitting in the middle of one of the greatest pieces of sports history in the entire century. So it was like, I don’t care.”

So, here's today's banner headline for Missouri voters:

Huckabee declares: 'I don't care' if Cards lose

-- Andrew Malcolm