Huckabee Team Hopeful in N.H. but More Confident to the South
Saturday, January 5, 2008
MANCHESTER, N.H., Jan. 4 -- Shortly after landing here around 4 a.m., Mike Huckabee bought four newspapers -- all with front-page stories detailing his improbable Iowa victory -- and quickly went about telling eight morning-show audiences that he aimed to fight hard in New Hampshire on his way to winning the Republican nomination.
"We're going to be ahead of the pack" after the primaries, he vowed.
But while Huckabee began making his pitch in the Granite State, most of his staff started making plans to go to South Carolina for a Jan. 19 contest that looks far more favorable for the Baptist minister than the one here Tuesday. Polls in New Hampshire show Huckabee well behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who won the state in 2000.
Huckabee's challenges in New Hampshire mirror the difficulties the former Arkansas governor will face elsewhere -- particularly in places without the large numbers of evangelicals that powered his Iowa triumph -- as he tries to turn his one-state campaign into a national movement.
Huckabee has little money, little name recognition and sparse campaign operations in upcoming states on the primary calendar. He only recently opened offices in the key battleground of Florida, for instance, where Rudolph W. Giuliani has been campaigning intensely and others have organized for months in advance of a Jan. 29 primary.
"I don't think we win here, but we're going up in the polls," Huckabee's campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, said in New Hampshire. "Then we're going to South Carolina and Florida, and we're leading in both those places."
Huckabee has alluded to the challenges of winning in New Hampshire, a state where "I haven't run for office before" or paid for "gazillions in ads," a reference to the heavy spending by Romney and McCain. Top adviser Bob Wickers has said the state is "not ideal" for Huckabee because of his brand of economic populism, which included support for tax increases as governor that probably will not sit well in this anti-tax, anti-government state.
Huckabee's campaign has $2 million in cash, compared with the tens of millions available to Romney, and it cannot afford ads on the Boston broadcast channels that reach the most voters here.
Results in Iowa showed a candidate highly reliant on the support of "born-again" Christians, who made up 60 percent of the electorate but are expected to be a much smaller proportion of voters in New Hampshire. An ad in Iowa describing Huckabee as a "Christian leader" has not ran here, as Huckabee has instead focused on his record as governor.
Still, Huckabee will spend the next four days in New Hampshire, flanked at almost every stop by actor and conservative activist Chuck Norris, in the hope that his personality will compensate for his lack of organization.
In his only stop Friday, Huckabee showed his fun-loving side, playing bass guitar with a local band at New England College in Henniker, but he did not speak about his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. The crowd of college students seemed more impressed by Norris, repeatedly shouting, "We want Chuck."
While they want to finish as high as third here, Huckabee aides see their path to the nomination elsewhere. They are banking on a strong showing on Jan. 15 in Michigan, an economically depressed state where the candidate's economic populism may be well received, and a victory four days later in South Carolina, where large numbers of evangelicals are likely to turn out. From there, the campaign is counting on momentum to carry Huckabee into Florida and on to Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, when more than 20 states vote, including many in the South.
Huckabee has shifted some of his rhetoric in recent days to focus on issues that may help him against McCain. He has repeatedly noted his support for President Bush's 2002 tax cuts, which McCain opposed. And after taking criticism for bashing Bush's foreign policy in a recent essay, he has switched to praising the president for preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 2001.
"He needs to get beyond his base, and I think he is," said David Beasley, a former governor of South Carolina and a Huckabee supporter, who said tactics such as his hunting trip will help.
Huckabee's aides are expecting an increasingly negative race as it intensifies. Huckabee tried to remain positive in Iowa, pulling a negative ad for fear it would alienate voters, but he has kept his options open elsewhere. Huckabee did not pledge not to go negative in other states, following the advice of Rollins and others who did not want to limit their options in a potential one-on-one contest.
Nonetheless, the campaign is bullish, viewing the race as an increasingly national contest in which Huckabee's skills as a communicator can help him win over audiences in states where he has little organization or other presence. Huckabee appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on the eve of the caucuses, and aides say such appearances and his humor in debates have helped fuel his rise in national polls.
"It's a campaign that makes a difference with message," said Chip Saltsman, Huckabee's campaign manager.