A lot has been made of two former 2008 Huckabee Iowa staffers going to work for other likely 2012 candidates. A couple weeks ago, Eric Woolson, a longtime Iowa political operative and Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager, took a job with Tim Pawlenty’s campaign. Yesterday, Wes Enos, Huckabee’s 2008 political director, was hired by Michele Bachmann.
Woolson and Enos essentially made up Huckabee’s entire 2008 staff for most of the run up to the caucuses. While their decision to seek employment with other candidates only adds to the speculation that Huckabee might not run for president in 2012, proclaiming that Huckabee is somehow doomed because of two staff defections is premature.
While Woolson and Enos were the two most prominent Iowans hired by Huckabee in 2008, its not like the two of them concocted the plan that took Huckabee from obscurity to winning the Iowa caucuses. Much of the credit for Huckabee’s Iowa victory belongs to Chip Saltsman, his national campaign manager, who called Iowa home during the lead-up to the caucuses. While Huckabee’s Iowa advisors waivered on whether or not he should participate in the Straw Poll, Saltsman was the one who dug in his heels and wanted to participate.
Without the surprising second place finish in the Straw Poll, Huckabee probably would have suffered to gain traction in the state. It would take a few more months before Huckabee’s momentum was evident, but by the fall the Huckabee campaign started to turn a few heads.
It’s obvious why Woolson and Enos were attractive to their new employers. Both have existing relationships with some of Huckabee’s supporters, and both also worked for Bob Vander Plaat’s gubernatorial campaign, meaning they know who and where some of the most passionate supporter are located. While Bachmann and Pawlenty now have people on staff who can reach out to Huckabee’s supporters, it’s important not to overestimate the value of those hired to work on campaigns.
Mitt Romney literally had the best staff that money could buy in 2008. His staff and consultants were not only well connected, but numerous. Still, that wasn’t good enough come the day of the caucuses. What matters in every election is the candidate, not the staff. Mike Huckabee was an exceptional candidate here in Iowa. Mitt Romney on the other hand, proved to be less than exceptional.
Huckabee’s 2008 caucus campaign took off because the grassroots supporters from across the state were motivated by the candidate to do so, not a staff member. Some of those activists are already engaged in the 2012 campaign by trying to keep Huckabee’s grassroots network in Iowa intact.
Randy Davis, Huckabee’s outstanding Wapello County chairman, has been sending emails to Huckabee supports across the state. Volunteers have also been calling previous Huckabee precinct leaders asking them if they are still committed to Huckabee.
In an email from March 31st, Randy Davis wrote, “It is possible you have received a phone call or e-mail about a possible future Mike Huckabee campaign, but I am sending this note as a follow up in case we could have missed you. The purpose of my note to you today is this: If Governor Huckabee DOES decide to get into the Presidential Primary race for the GOP nomination, would you be willing to support him again?
Davis went on to explain that his goal was to get a feel of people’s mindsets leading into 2012, but his activity and the actions of other former Huckabee supporters just goes to show how passionate of a following Huckabee has/had in Iowa. While Woolson and Enos may be able approach and identify Huckabee supporters for their new employers, it’s going to be difficult to get Huckabee’s best supporters to consider someone else while Huckabee has not yet ruled out a run.
As a former political staffer myself, I like to think that I had a unique ability to garner support for the candidate for whom I worked. The reality is that I was only as effective as my candidate was at the time. Campaign workers are like little political combines that harvest votes for their candidates. While Woolson and Enos might not be available to help with Huckabee’s potential 2012 harvest, there are plenty of other combines out there for a potential frontrunner like Huckabee to acquire.
If Huckabee does run, his late start will create some obstacles to overcome, but finding staff will not be one of them.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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