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Home-School Ties Aided Huckabee's Iowa Rise

Home-school parent Erin Hartman, left, talks about Mike Huckabee's Iowa campaign with Julie Roe, an early supporter who created her own Huckabee campaign literature and tapped a network of home-schoolers to boost his candidacy.
Home-school parent Erin Hartman, left, talks about Mike Huckabee's Iowa campaign with Julie Roe, an early supporter who created her own Huckabee campaign literature and tapped a network of home-schoolers to boost his candidacy. (By Peter Slevin -- The Washington Post)

"I feel Mike's best because he's comfortable with us, because he's one of us. We see a genuine authenticity," Roe, 39, said. "He had me when he said there's a section of America where people just want to be left alone."

The Aug. 11 straw poll was the first important test in what was essentially a race for second place against the hyper-organized Romney.

On the eve of the poll, Huckabee received a crucial boost from the Virginia-based Farris, who created the Home School Legal Defense Association. He touted the straw poll as "the first and most critical moment in the campaign," and he headed to Iowa to rally support.

Roe, Hartman and other home-school activists encouraged friends and relatives to attend. FairTax, which advocates a national flat tax supported by Huckabee, organized on his behalf. Together, the fledgling forces helped Huckabee finish a surprising second.

Yet he still had little money or organization. Roe was one supporter who felt Huckabee could still break through, and she kept at it. She persuaded an aide to send Huckabee to Eldora after the poll: "I begged," she said.

On the eve of the August visit, she e-mailed announcements to about 50 committed home-school families in the Hardin County Home Educators network. She posted notices on bulletin boards and tapped other connections, reaching Iowa gun owners active in the fight over the Second Amendment and speaking with evangelical Christian pastors.

Home-school parents tend to be heavily involved in a range of community activities from the arts to conservation, giving them wide circles of potential allies, said Roe, who home-schooled her oldest child for a year and now keeps her two youngest at home.

"Even though the media makes it seem that we are a homogenous group of Bible-thumpers and flat-Earthers, there is a variety of opinion," Roe said.

Huckabee made it to Eldora for Roe's event at the Pizza Ranch. Several dozen people showed up, but the popular Hardin County Fair was underway and a number of prospective supporters were away at church camps. So Roe organized a second event two weeks later, drawing about 100 people.

By the end of September, the campaign had finally raised its first million dollars -- a benchmark total, yet barely pocket change in present-day presidential politics. Things picked up in October, especially after Huckabee's enthusiastic reception at the Values Voters Summit in Washington. He raised $2 million in November and began running television ads, including a clever spot with Norris.

For Norris's boost, Huckabee can thank Brett and Alex Harris, 19-year-old twins and sons of an Oregon home-school activist named Gregg Harris. They started blogs to promote Huckabee and had the idea of sending e-mails to prominent conservatives, urging them to get behind the former Arkansas governor.

One of the e-mails from the Portland pair was read to Norris, who climbed aboard, filming an ad that emphasized Huckabee's self-deprecating wit and his credentials as a social conservative and gun advocate.


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