August 12, 2007

Thoughts on Mike Huckabee (After the Poll)

Many people have expressed skepticism about Mike Huckabee's chances in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. We understand, because we have felt exactly the same way about many candidates friends of ours have been excited about in the past -- third-party candidates in particular.

Mike Huckabee does not fall in that category. Not only does he have the experience and credibility from his ten and half years as a popular and effective governor of Arkansas, but he has that charisma, that ability to communicate with the ordinary American, that can only be called — as so many political analysts and pundits have described it — Reagan-esque.

If you have not read our first post on Huckabee, click here.

Over the past few months, as Huckabee repeatedly revealed himself as the most powerful communicator in the presidential debates — and also began to overtake McCain in key primary states, like Iowa — it became clear that the only things keeping him from vaulting in the top tier of candidates was the media's lack of exposure and the money to get his message out to voters. For many potential supporters, the question was, "Can he really get any traction?"

The answer to that question hinged on the results of the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa this weekend. The poll doesn't elect anybody, but it is a key test of organizational strength, supporter enthusiasm, and campaign momentum. After Romney committed to do (pay) anything to win, other top tier candidates like Guiliani and McCain chose not to participate. This made the event a must-win-big event for Romney, but the real story leading up was the other candidates. Who would come in second?

Romney spent over $4 million on the poll for a huge blitz of TV ads and mailings, over 175 buses to bring in supporters, and thousands of the $35 tickets people needed to cast a ballot in the poll. Senator Brownback, Huckabee's main rival for the social conservative vote, spent over $500,000 for robo-calls attacking Romney on abortion prior to the poll, over 100 buses for his supporters, several thousand tickets, and a large air-conditioned tent. Huckabee spent only $150,000 and did not run a single ad or rent a single bus. He only bought 1,800 tickets.

We were, to be honest, a little hesitant to post about Huckabee before the straw poll. If he did well, then of course, we could talk about his clear momentum. If he did poorly, thus being forced out of the race, then so much for that -- another great candidate who just couldn't make it in the actually running. But we were too impressed with his content and presentation to wait. We're glad we didn't.

As it was, Huckabee became the undisputed story of the straw poll, taking a strong (and to many, surprising) second place to Romney with nearly 2,600 votes. With an estimated 1/32 of Romney's spending, Huckabee had well over 1/2 the number of votes. But I'll stop here, for a while, and let some of the post-poll coverage speak for itself.

TIME Magazine:

Romney's first-place finish was just the logical next step in his mechanical push toward January, the genuine surprise of the day was Mike Huckabee's runner-up placement. The former Arkansas governor captured 2,587 votes (18% of the total) to Romney's 4,516 (32%), and said after the results were announced that he had spent less than $150,000 on the effort. Unlike rival campaigns, the Huckabee operation rented no buses for the event, relying on supporters to transport themselves to Ames.

More remarkably, Huckabee's vote total was higher than the number of tickets his campaign had purchased. That means either some of his supporters paid the $35 cost on their own instead of — as most voters do — obtaining their tickets through the campaign or Huckabee won the support of voters who attended the straw-poll on other campaigns' dimes. Huckabee, with his engaging manner, gubernatorial experience, and credential as a Baptist minister, may now be able to force his way into the first tier.
News and Policy:
With his second-placed position in the Iowa straw poll, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has emerged as a potential insurgent candidate of the Republican Party presidential nomination race... He edged out Kansas Senator Sam Brownback for runner-up position, polling 18.1 percent as against Brownback's 15.3 percent. Going into the straw poll, former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, had reportedly predicted that Huckabee could emerge from it as the dark horse because he has an authenticity and candor that was beginning to resonate with people. The Iowa straw poll result seems to be vindicating such predictions.

“Over the last several months, a lot of people have told us, you’re a great guy, you have a wonderful message, we really think you have good experience, but we’re just really not sure that you can get the traction to win,” Huckabee said after the poll. “So this for us was a great testing point to show that we can get the traction."
The Politico:
So maybe message is more important than motorcoaches, after all. Mike Huckabee finished a surprising second with 18.1 percent of the vote in the straw poll here Saturday even though he did not have the funds to rent a single bus or put a single commercial on TV. True, Mitt Romney finished in first place with 31.5 percent of the vote, but Romney spent millions on buses and television commercials.

“For me to come in second is the story,” Huckabee said in a press conference immediately after the results were announced. “For me to hold the frontrunner under 50 percent is the story.”

Huckabee told The Politico on Wednesday night that he probably would have to withdraw from the race if he did not come in at least a strong third. That is no longer a problem, though it is not known whether Huckabee's second place showing will make him a “top tier” candidate, a media judgment that has no hard and set rules.
Latest Politics:
The headline out of tonight is clearly Mike Huckabee's second-place finish, just 13.4 points behind Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney's financial and organizational advantage was staggering going into Ames — meaning, as I've discussed before, that his winning isn't much of a win. Mr. Romney met the minimum requirements, but his margin had no "wow" factor. That means the media bounce out of tonight is likely to accrue to Mr. Huckabee. It was basically a battle between Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback as to who could score second place and a potential bump up to the first tier.
The Atlantic:
The second flight out of Ames belongs to Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who manifestly did not spend nearly as much as third-place finisher Sam Brownback and who has been dogged by questions about his ability to harness his support.

“We had two fish and five loaves and it fed 5,000,” Huckabee said of his victory.

Michael Farris, a Huckabee adviser who runs the Home School Legal Defense Fund, said Huckabee’s campaign has existed on a “shoe-string budget” so far. “But it just goes to show that he is the best communicator in this race.”
Political Buzz:
Rising GOP star Huckabee finishes 13 points behind Mitt and the loads of Mitt-heads that were supposed to turn up and push his vote total well above 6-7,000 never showed up... Bad news for Mitt? Definitely. Huckabee’s stellar performance vaults him into the sleeper position for Iowa and select states in the South.
Real Clear Politics:
The instant analysis would seem to show two very clear winners: Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. The two former governors took 31.5% and 18.1% respectively... For Huckabee, the second-place win came after having spent little money and organizing much less than Romney, Senator Sam Brownback and others.

"The momentum was with us," said Huckabee. "For us, it's really that we overperformed." Huckabee didn't miss a beat in taking over the mantle of challenging Romney. "I think if you look at those, even above us or below us, there was a lot who underperformed," he said.
The Washington Post:
The biggest political event of the 2007 calendar year gave former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a victory, but the biggest winner may well be former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who placed a surprising second... Huckabee knew his back was against the wall, and he pulled out the surprise of the night. On the ground it was evident that Romney and Brownback had spent the most money courting straw poll voters, while Huckabee was working with a far smaller budget (his campaign spent $150,000 or so, according campaign manager Chip Saltsman). No matter how it happened, he got it done. Huckabee's campaign was looking for a spark and they seem to have gotten it tonight. He must -- and we repeat MUST -- turn this surprise showing into campaign cash or it will be for naught. But today is Huckabee's best day as a candidate by far. (Link)
A couple months ago I was talking to one a major political reporter who said their predicted Republican candidate - as crazy as it may sound - was still Mike Huckabee. This is a person with a very good track record.

What is clear coming out of the Ames straw poll is that Huckabee is rising. I'm becoming less and less surprised. Huckabee may be the one Republican candidate who has the ability to create a new coalition of Christian backers holding traditional Christian conservatives who care most about abortion and gay marriage while bringing in the new breed of evangelical who is increasingly concerned about social justice issues.

Christians increasingly see him as a "real" Christian - not just one made to sound like one for the political season.
Wall Street Journal: (Link)
The biggest winner of Iowa Republicans' weekend straw poll of 11 presidential rivals may well turn out to be not Mitt Romney, whose first-place finish here was expected, but surprise runner-up Mike Huckabee, the guitar-picking former governor of Arkansas.

Should Mr. Huckabee capitalize on his second-place showing here Saturday to get a second look from demoralized Republicans unhappy with their choices -- and to get much-needed funding -- the repercussions could reshuffle the party's contest for its 2008 nomination. Social conservatives, who have come to dominate the Republican party, could decide the candidate they have been looking for has been in the race the whole time, languishing at the back of the pack with little money to promote himself.
The National Republic: (Link)
It's hard to overstate the significance of Huckabee's performance here. Combined, Huckabee and Brownback--the field's two leading social conservatives--outpolled Mitt Romney today 33 to 31.5. If, as the results suggest, Huckabee emerges as the lone standard bearer for this group, he'll probably end up with a block of support to rival Romney's. (Most "Brownbackers" I spoke to would feel extremely comfortable throwing their support behind the Arkansan.) But, of course, just combining Brownback's and Huckabee's numbers actually way understates Huckabee's potential ceiling. For one thing, he's come this far running on fumes. It will be interesting to see what he can do with the fundraising boost he'll enjoy after today. On top of that, there seem to be a lot of social conservatives currently supporting Romney because he's running as the most conservative of the top-tier candidates. Now that Huckabee has demonstrated his viability, it's not hard to imagine him peeling off a decent number of Romney's conservative backers."
Huckabee has proved that he is viable and dangerous to the front-running, yet less-than-stellar candidates. What he needs now is for people to get off the sidelines and support him, vocally, but most importantly, financially.

It takes a donation of just $20.08 (read 2008) to join Team Huckabee. That's well within the reach of any of us. For some, larger donations are a very real possibility. Brett and I are excited to be voting in our first presidential election in 2008, but it won't be our first to participate in. All of us can be involved. An online donation only takes a few minutes, telling people about a candidate is the natural outgrowth of enthusiasm, and this is all of our chance to turn our enthusiasm into real-world impact.

We understand that some of you have some research to do still. That's more than fine. My first note is a great place to start and I'll be updating it with more links and articles as I find them. We just encourage you not to take a "sit back and wait" attitude toward the election and toward Huckabee. With primaries moving earlier than ever, now is the time to act if we want a voice — or a choice besides Rudy McRomney. We're convinced Huckabee is that choice.

Thanks for reading, folks. God bless you all!

No comments: