Home-School Ties Aided Huckabee's Iowa Rise
Monday, December 17, 2007
ELDORA, Iowa -- Julie Roe, an early believer in Mike Huckabee, worked with what she had.
With no buttons, no yard signs and no glossy literature from his nearly invisible Iowa campaign, she took a pair of scissors and cut out a photograph of the former Arkansas governor. She pasted it on a piece of paper, scribbled down some of his positions, made copies and launched the Huckabee for President campaign in rural Hardin County.
Roe contacted friends in her home-schooling network and bought a newspaper advertisement for $38. She spread the word in the grocery store and the church foyer: "I would tell them about Mike Huckabee and they would say, 'Who's Mike Huckleberry?' I'd say, 'No, no, no, it's Huckabee.' "
Huckabee's name is no longer a mystery to Iowa's Republican voters, in large part because of an extensive network of home-schoolers like Roe who have helped lift his underfunded campaign from obscurity to the front of a crowded field. Opinion polls show that his haphazard approach is trumping the studied strategy of Mitt Romney, who invested millions only to be shunned by many religious conservatives such as Roe, who see the former Baptist preacher from Hope, Ark., as their champion.
While early attention focused on Romney and other better-known and better-funded opponents, home-schoolers rallied to Huckabee's cause, attracted by his faith, his politics and his decision to appoint a home-school proponent to the Arkansas board of education. They tapped a web of community and church groups that share common conservative interests, blasting them with e-mails and passing along the word about Huckabee in social settings.
It was the endorsement by prominent national home-school advocate Michael Farris that helped propel Huckabee to a surprising second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll in August. And it was the twin sons of a home-school advocate in Oregon who helped put Huckabee in touch with television tough guy Chuck Norris, who appeared alongside him in an attention-getting TV spot and on the campaign trail.
Home-schoolers could also prove to be a powerful force on caucus night. By one estimate, about 9,000 Iowa children are home-schooled. Their parents could form a sizable portion of the 80,000 or so Republicans expected to show up on Jan. 3.
"We have worked harder to organize, but folks like the home-schoolers are going to be pretty motivated," acknowledged Gentry Collins, who runs Romney's Iowa campaign.
In the first nine months of the campaign, Romney ran more than 5,000 ads on Iowa television. Huckabee ran none. Romney hired staff and paid dozens of "super-volunteers," while Huckabee's approach was less structured, to put it kindly.
"It's a lot of word of mouth, certainly," said Eric Woolson, Huckabee's Iowa campaign manager, who often hears from supporters that his e-mail inbox is full. "It was me until the end of April, all by myself. Until the last week of June, there were two of us. There were three of us from August 12 until October 1."
Home-schooler and business professor Erin Hartman put it this way: "There isn't all that much strategy. It's about common people coming to the campaign and saying, 'I like Mike. What can I do?' "
Roe first noticed Huckabee because of his dedication to home-schoolers and his anti-abortion work in Arkansas. When she met him in January, she had already read his books. She knew he had campaigned nearby for an Iowa politician last year, and she liked the way he seemed both steadfast and understanding.