Amid the various campaigns’ enormous tents and hundreds of paraphernalia-clad campaign volunteers and party activitists, Huckabee told reporters that Perry not only was raining on the straw poll’s parade with his expected announcement in South Carolina but was making a questionable tactical decision to share the national media stage with the Iowa event.
“Whoever wins here is the big story,” Huckabee said. “He’s part of the story, but he’s not the whole story. If he’d done this Monday, he’s the whole story for Monday, so I don’t understood it.”
Huckabee added that Perry “upset” people in Iowa Republicans by stepping in their spotlight on “the biggest day of the summer politically.”
By all accounts, the outcome of the straw poll remained unusually up for grabs in an uncertain and still-growing field of candidates, with former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, fellow Minnesotan Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Rep. Ron Paul all in position to perform well after weeks of building support across the state.
Just what the outcome will mean is equally uncertain, however, given the list of candidates not competing in it. Neither Perry nor former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who visited the state fair Friday, will be on the straw poll ballot even though both could soon be in the race.
Similarly, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. will not participate in the poll.
Huckabee said he does not envision an outcome that would allow both Bachmann and Pawlenty, the two candidates for whom the straw poll carries the greatest stakes, to declare victory. “I don’t know how that happens,” he said.
While Bachmann is hoping to demonstrate that her catapult to the top of the polls in Iowa can endure through the fall, Pawlenty, despite great expectations at the start of the year, is seeking to turn around a campaign that has struggled in fundraising and most polls.
Huckabee said that while both Minnesotans have much on the line, “the expectations are highest for Bachmann. There’s been so much buzz, the poll numbers in Iowa are so strong that I think it’s an important day for her—but an important one for Pawlenty as well.”
Huckabee also gave a shout-out to Rick Santorum. “He’s really been given the short shrift in terms of attention but he’s worked his guts out in Iowa and really been on the ground, and today we’ll find out whether that’s going to work,” he said.
Huckabee had some tough words for Paul, who boasts a passionate base of supporters but has struggled to gain traction within the wider Republican base because of his isolationist views.
Huckabee criticized Paul for saying, during Thursday’s televised debate in Ames, that the United States should let Iran develop nuclear weapons.
He also said a straw poll victory for Paul would diminish the importance of the event in the future, because, he said, Paul has virtually no chance of becoming the Republican nominee.
“His views on Iran the other night I think disqualify him as a serious contender for the nomination," Huckabee said. “You cannot say that Iran with a nuclear weapon is the same thing as Russia with a weapon. And if I have to spell it out to him, here it is: The reason Russians proliferated nuclear weapons and the reason the United States did is because we both built them up so we would never have to use them. The reason Iran is building one is they can’t wait to use it.”
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.