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April 26th, 2011

Huckabee’s Losing Strategy

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Written by: Kevin Hall
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By Kevin Hall

Forget the polls.  If Mike Huckabee truly wants to become president, his method of going about it seems designed for failure.  The former Arkansas Governor could have run away with the Iowa Caucus victory if he began organizing two months ago.  However, Huckabee has decided not to enter the field until mid-to-late summer, if he runs.  Instead of building upon his Iowa win, Huckabee would be trying to rebuild an organization without most of its crucial members.

Some of his diehard supporters are still “Stuck on Huck”, but without the candidate, there is no adhesive strong enough to keep Huckabee’s 2008 campaign structure in place.  His entire Iowa staff is committed elsewhere.  Several of his key backers have also signed up with other candidates.  While there is no shortage of political operatives in Iowa, there is not a limitless supply of people capable of delivering a victory.

Iowa caucus goers are a spoiled bunch.  Most Americans never get to meet a presidential candidate in person.  In Iowa, we have numerous opportunities to meet them all.  We want to be wooed by the presidential candidates.  In fact, we demand it.  If you want our vote, you have to come to Iowa and earn it.  That means visiting small towns, chatting with everyday folks, and telling us where you truly stand on the issues.  It means answering questions that might make you uneasy.  Then going to the next town, and doing it all over again, around the state.

The Huckabee supporters who think his radio and TV appearances can replace actual campaigning are wrong.  That method has never worked.  Ask Ronald Reagan and Fred Thompson.  Reagan launched his broadcasting career in Iowa, became a TV and movie star and was much better known than his 1980 Republican primary rival, George H.W. Bush.  Iowa should have been an easy victory for Reagan.  Apparently, his campaign thought so.  They made the mistake of not putting much of an effort into winning the Iowa Caucus.  Reagan lost the state to Bush.

In 2007, Fred Thompson was a well-known actor, had a national radio gig filling in for Paul Harvey, and was considered the conservative alternative to the rest of the field.  He led, or placed second, in Iowa and national polls as late as October.  However, Thompson waited too long to jump in the race and did not campaign hard enough once he entered.  He finished a distant third in Iowa.

To win Iowa, you have to come here and campaign very hard.  Mike Huckabee knows this as well as anyone.  That is what makes his current track so confusing.   Huckabee spent a year and a half working for Iowans votes in the last election cycle.  He was able to build large coalitions of pastors, evangelicals, and homeschoolers.  There are now several candidates picking off those caucus goers.

The current field could easily fracture the evangelical vote in several ways.  Perhaps the greatest threat to Huckabee’s hopes is Judge Roy Moore.  Although most observers feel Moore has little chance of success, he has signed away Huckabee’s former state co-chair Danny Carroll, as well as prominent pastor Cary Gordon and former Iowa Family Policy Center COO Tom Steen.  That trio can make inroads with the statewide pastors network that endorsed Huckabee in 2007.

Susan Geddes is another departure from Huckabee’s 2008 staff.  She organized 14 counties for the victorious Iowa Caucus campaign.  Geddes even earned praise from Huckabee in one of his books.   She is now solidly backing businessman Herman Cain for president.  “I decided several months ago that our country could not afford another career politician,” Geddes said.

Geddes was Kent Sorenson’s campaign manager for his successful 2010 Iowa Senate race.  Sorenson also backed Huckabee in 2008.  He is now the go-to-guy in Iowa for Michelle Bachmann’s campaign.   They are two key organizers in southern Iowa counties like Warren, Marion and Madison County, where Huckabee took between 44-56% of the vote in 2008.  He will need people like that to win Iowa again.  Finding them will be the problem.

Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa team:

State Chair Bob Vander Plaats: Pledged to stay impartial through at least November; CEO of The Family Leader, which is hosting a “Presidential Lecture Series” for all willing candidates

Coalition’s director Matt Reisetter: Working for the Family Leader; group has pledged to stay impartial through at least November

State Co-Chair Danny Carroll: Committed to Judge Roy Moore’s campaign.

Grassroots organizer Susan Geddes: Committed to Herman Cain’s campaign.

Iowa campaign manager Eric Woolson: Doing communications for Tim Pawlenty’s campaign

Iowa political director Wes Enos: Will work for Michelle Bachmann’s campaign

Field staffer Aubrie Johnson: Supporting Tim Pawlenty

Organizational director Trainor Walsh: Working in Washington, D.C.

Senator Kent Sorenson: Will back Michelle Bachmann

Photo by Dave Davidson

About the Author

Kevin Hall

Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor’s office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad’s 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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