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The secret (?) of Huckabee’s success in Iowa

"Viral marketing":

"He hasn’t used direct mail and his very first commercial is airing on TV now," Iowa Republican Party executive director Chuck Laudner said. "The word on Huck is being spread by the news media, on the Internet — and the faith community is pushing Huck by word of mouth, phone trees, e-mail and also through caucus training sessions that occur all over the state."

And then there’s his self-presentation:

The cause aspect of Mr. Huckabee’s appeal extends beyond the intense loyalty of his evangelical Protestant supporters to secular conservatives and some Republican centrists, Mr. Laudner said.


The other Iowa Republican leader agreed with Mr. Laudner, saying that in candidate debates, speeches and interviews, Mr. Huckabee conveys the image of a genuine foe of abortion and homosexual "marriage" who nonetheless "doesn’t shove his views down people’s throats" and speaks compassionately about homosexuals and immigrants.

Such an approach might also work in South Carolina, but it’s not likely to carry over into some of the bigger states when the primary action starts to be fast and furious. If Huckabee can’t quickly translate Iowa (and perhaps South Carolina) success into an effective national campaign organization, he won’t succeed in doing anything other than perhaps mortally wounding Romney (as some have argued).

My response: if Romney can’t close the deal after his months-long and very expensive courtship of Iowa voters, it isn’t Huckabee’s fault if he isn’t able to go the distance.

Discussions - 20 Comments

Huckabee's "secret" is that the Mormon can't seal the deal. A fact that was obvious to us six months ago. I knew all along that Romney was going nowhere fast.

Conservative Christians in the GOP have never given the nomination to a Catholic, let alone a Mormon. And Romney wasn't about to be the first.

But had Romney been a true Conservative, a staunch Conservative, a Conservative who was in the cultural trenches over the last decade, perhaps then the GOP might have given him a gander. But with Romney's nakedly opportunistic flip-flopping, with his squalid taking of every position under the sun, ............. not a prayer. I'm surprised he's gotten this far. But for all his money, for all the money he's pouring into New Hampshire and Iowa, for all the attempts to browbeat Evangelicals into endorsing him, for all that and more, .......... he's effectively tied with a no-name Southern Governor.

I think it's time to start asking Romney to leave the race. If he's been at it this long, WITH ALL THE MONEY SPENT, all the "Ask Mitt" meetings, and he can't gain separation from a broke Huckabee, then it's time for Romney to stop stealing attention from the serious contenders.

Huckabee is a fad -- political comfort food. Romney has a far stronger campaign and is far more presidential. Whether we like him or not is not the point. Did people warm up to John Kerry? Bob Dole? Dukakis? Mondale? Yes, all of them lost the general election. But all of them won their nomination, and that's what we're talking about. The idea that Romney should quit is ridiculous. The fact that Romney hasn't "closed the deal" yet is meaningless. It's simply a reflection of his newness as a party leader and the fact that the season still has a few months to go. The field wasn't even definitely set until Ol' Fred's announcement earlier this fall. Romney is in a two-man race with Rudy, and Rudy has serious liabilities that he has not sufficiently addressed. Inadequate attention to Iowa may sink him.

I was actually speaking against Dan there. As for Romney as a poor "retail campaigner," I don't this is proven by his failure to build a "much larger lead" than he has. Just to be in the lead is pretty good. I do think Romney has political weaknesses, but so does every other candidate, in both parties.

David, you're dreaming. Romney has spent 10 million in IA and he's lost 2% there in three months. That's not Presidential timber at all. Romney quitting the race won't happen before Florida. Nobody really buys Romney's flip-flops and his fake attempts to explain his opportunism. He is amazingly fake; he should be proud that he was able to vault himself into the top tier, but that's as far as it goes my friend.

Clint, your analysis of Romney as a bad candidate because he hasn't pulled away from the competition is unsophisticated. It would apply only in a two-man race. In a multi-candidate race, holding your own while others are campaigning -- if you're in the top tier, as Romney has been and is -- is an accomplishment. I don't say Romney is a political juggernaut. He isn't, and won't be, unless more of the other candidates begin to fade. Nor am I a fan of his, despite my respect for the professionalism and energy of his campaign. But to dismiss Romney as a political loser (in the context of the primaries, I mean) is excessive. I wonder if you're letting your personal distaste for the man -- which is quite understandable -- cloud your judgment of him as a candidate.

Some smart-aleck may interpret two of my posts as inconsistent, so let me clarify: The *race for the nomination* is two-man, Rudy-Romney, because no other candidate is likely to develop the critical mass of GOP voters -- the large minority -- that is needed for a candidate to snowball into a clear lead and ultimately the magic number of delegates. However, the *field* is multi-candidate. That is, a few of the other candidates have more than trivial support. In that context, one should not except any candidate, this early, to break away from the pack in the obvious sense that some on this thread are looking for. There are still too many options out there for anyone other than an heir-apparent, or an absolutely stellar presence, to zoom ahead. The fact that Romney hasn't, despite enormous spending and work on his part, is not a political strike against him. It simply means that he's not an heir-apparent (no one is), not a stellar presence (no one is), and at this point, one of several candidates whose names people know. Bear in mind, outside New Hampshire and Michigan, no one in the early states except a few political junkies knew who Romney was a few months ago. The fact that he's seriously in the game speaks well of his campaign, whether we ourselves like the man or not.

No David, I'm saying that Romney the candidate is in serious trouble and in a very unenviable position. What can he do? He's been spending money and time in IA and his lead is evaporating to Huck. Anyone who can't see that Romney is in trouble in IA is fooling themselves (perhaps because they personally like Romney too much). Even if Romney holds on for a narrow victory any "sophisticated analysis" would consider expectations. Early primaries are about beating or failing expectations. Since August Romney has been on top of the heap in IA, so if he loses or narrowly wins it will be interpreted by voters as a loss-an underperformance. After all his investment in IA, if Romney doesn't win, his campaign is over.

Your parsing of "two man race/field" borders on Hillary explaining immigrant ids. Rudy and Romney are not the only two who can win this race; any of the top five have a chance currently.

Huckabee may very well be a "fad." But he's a "fad" very much capable of torpedoing Romney's hopes.

David, Romney has been swinging to no effect. The money he has poured in, the time, the effort, the organization, ALL OF IT, hitting the hustings with his kids, throwing his wife out there, highlighting how "the Bushies" are climbing on board his bandwagon, all of it hasn't proven enough to gain separation from Huckabee. And Huckabee has no organization to speak of, no money to toss around, and doesn't have his own talk radio host puffing his name to the heavens.

Romney is, as someone observed in the thread, "amazingly fake." And no amount of money, no amount of pandering, no amount of flip-flopping and browbeating can make up for it. The more people examine his true record, and not his most recently assumed positions, the more they're scandalized that such a man would seek the nomination of the GOP.

We're the Party of Lincoln, who told the nation that "a house divided cannot stand." Romney however is a human revolving door, always moving, coming and going, capable of reversal.

Yeah, whatever, Dan. I'm just saying Romney has a strong campaign and more to sustain it than Huckabee. Am I a fan of Mitt's? No. Do we have the luxury of holding out for the next Ronald Reagan? I think that question answers itself. Is Huckabee in any serious sense a conservative? No. While I think the label "pro-life liberal," which one writer dismissed him with, it a bit unfair, it is more accurate than the perception of some that Huckabee is, ideologically speaking, the real deal.

Clint, Romney isn't necessarily a good fit for Iowa, nor is Rudy. Iowa Republicans are pro-life. They also worry about their welfare-state bennies -- so many of them being oldsters, and so much of the state having structurally weak economics. They like unpretentious Middle-American types. For all those reasons, Huckabee might score big there. And for all those reasons, Iowa not being America writ small, Huckabee might very well peak there. I would add, however, that Huckabee is at least as weak on immigration than Rudy, and weaker than Romney appears to be. And Iowa Republicans have, by all accounts, gone a long way toward waking
up toward the immigration crisis. Huckabee, vintage "compassionate conservative," will not be helped by this. I would add that Iowa isn't as important, is never as important, as New Hampshire. Both Rudy and Romney are much better-positioned there. Huckabee will not go over particularly well in that state. And I'll go out on a limb and suggest that he won't catch fire in South Carolina, either.

New Hampshire is almost meaningless in the GOP nominating process anymore. (See their last 2 selections) They are a very strange people far less in tune with America and the GOP than Iowans. The Iowa GOP is quite like the GOP nationally, so even while the state of IA is a little out of it, a strong showing in IA is a very good omen-a far better one than New Hampshire anyway. I'll gladly leave you out on that SC limb. Also this stuff about Huckabee not being there in big states is silly. He's at 10% in FL, 16% in TX and very much within striking distance when he starts riding that Iowa and South Carolina bounce.

David, sure, Romney does have a better organization. Which makes all the more inexplicable his floundering against Huckabee. Were he like Huckabee, devoid of organization, devoid of money, then Romney's numbers would be impressive. But when we look at Romney's numbers mindful of all the money and effort thrown in to procure such paltry results, then we're left with no other conclusion that voters aren't buying what Romney's shilling.

He can't buy himself a Conservative track record. He can't buy himself a shield that wards off review of his record. He can't buy himself out of his Massachusetts record.

Romney's ship is taking on water badly. So much so that we're now seeing the push-polling scandal, which is slowly bubbling upwards. Who was behind it? A good many of 'em have strange ties to the Romney campaign. Desperation makes for strange campaign gambits. It's as I said, the good ship Romney is taking on water and listing fast.


Dan -- I agree that the voters aren't buying Romney, but neither are they, broadly speaking, buying anyone else.
Someone always gets nominated, in many cases without really being "bought" by most of the party. Clint -- I agree that New Hampshire isn't typical of America. I also agree, obviously, that New Hampshire winners have often lost the nomination. But people rarely win the nomination without strong showings in the earliest states. My point about Huckabee and Iowa was that Iowa is a naturally good state for him, once he gains a little traction, which I admit he has. But maybe I can explain my view of the situation this way: I fully expect that Romney (at least, don't know about Rudy) will do better in Iowa than Huckabee will do in New Hampshire. No one will knock out either Romney or Rudy in these early stages, and if I'm right about that, the superior resources of their campaigns will probably become decisive by Mega-Tuesday, Feb. 5.

David, you are right that Huck will do worse in NH than Romney will do in IA, at least unless expectations are factored in heavily. However, that is still a net plus for Huck because IA is a better state than NH. Also just because the first two states don't knock Romney out doesn't mean SC, NV, FL can't before the big primary day. I expect that by super Tuesday Thompson will have dropped out, and Romney will soldier on drawing single digits.

I assume -- without knowing for certain -- that Romney has laid what groundwork he can in all the early states. Huckabee didn't get going until recently. His support comes from people who are looking for personal comfort, which almost by definition is a group only marginally interested in politics with little in the way of commitment to it. Huckabee doesn't just need voters; he needs active supporters who know how to make things happen. I don't see any depth to the campaign, and by now, winners normally have some depth in their campaigns, whatever the poll results might say. I do agree that Thompson will be out before Mega-Tuesday, or at least immediately thereafter. Were he to drop out now or very soon, Huckabee might pick up a lot of that vote. But my guess is that Thompson's disappearance will come too late for Huckabee.

Clint, one other point: Mormons are disciplined, serious folks who know how to work -- and won't shrug off a commitment just because a kid is whining about something, or the spouse needs knee surgery, or a ballgame is on TV. I suspect many Mormons have been signed up throughout the country. And I suspect that when they say they'll walk a precinct (or whatever) for Mitt, most will actually do it.

Excellent last point, David. I think my problem with Huckabee is that his new-found support reminds me of all the hype surrounding Thompson. Seems like the same people who were convinced Thompson was the savior of the party are now bestowing that honor on Huckabee. I think too many conservatives out there keep expecting to find that "perfect candidate" and latch onto the latest fad rather than back the more realistic Rudy or Romney.

Yes. I would add that there are several psychological dynamics in the Republican race. One, the rejection of politics, and of international engagement, in favor of anti-government theory (Ron Paul supporters). Two, a wish for the good old days under a leader of Reagan's clarity and caliber (most Republican voters). Three, a desire among Middle Americans, and especially evangelicals, for a personal comfort level with the candidate -- mediocrity being OK. Those votes could have gone to Fred if he'd come across stronger, could have gone to Hunter in some cases if he had money and organization, and are now drifting, it seems, toward Huckabee. Four, a desire for continued strength in foreign policy and homeland security (Giuliani and to a much lesser extent McCain). Five, a desire for a smart manager who might be able to get spending under control (support that goes mainly to Romney). Six, a desire to hold onto the White House (support can go to any well-established candidate, since who can win the White House isn't obvious). The dynamic is simpler on the Democratic side. There, it is enough simply to be a Democrat. One gets little sense that the Democratic electorate is thinking anything through. There are those who want a woman president, those who want a black president, those who want the Clintons back, and those who want some utterly undefined "new era." These impulses, however, are really interchangeable and are really matters of personal taste, not angst, as we see on the Republican side. Therefore, the Democratic race has little interest and the Republican race a good deal more.

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