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Election 2008: Huckabee Campaign

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Sen. Tim Hutchinson
Advisor to Huckabee for President; former U.S. senator (R-Ark.)
Wednesday, January 30, 2008; 3:00 PM

Former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), a senior advisor to Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign, was online Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. ET to take your questions about the results of the Florida primary and the Huckabee campaign's political platform and strategy to win the nomination.

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The transcript follows.

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Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Greetings on behalf of the Huckabee campaign. It's very exciting as we go into Super Tuesday, where 20 states will be picking their delegates. Very excited to be among the, I guess it's four remaining candidates still standing.

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Washington: Senator, have you been on the campaign trail with Gov. Huckabee? It seems the pace is very grueling. What's a typical day like?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Yes, I was on the trail with Gov. Huckabee in Iowa and South Carolina. I've known him for many years but had not campaigned with him that intimately before. He's getting by on about four hours of sleep a night, rarely turns down media requests, and his schedule is back-to-back events. It requires incredible stamina, so I have a new appreciation for Gov. Huckabee. He also tries to make time for his running as he prepares for the Boston marathon. But it's very grueling, a tough process that we as Americans put candidates through. I've been in politics for 18 years and this is the first time I've been involved in a presidential campaign to this degree. Just going through the Iowa caucus process was inspiring and exhilarating, to see the beginning of the process of choosing a president.

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Pullman, Wash.: Will Gov. Huckabee attend the CPAC meeting next week? Please discuss the significance of that meeting.

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: I honestly can't answer whether he'll be there. I can tell you it's a very important gathering that he's spoken at in the past, but I'm not privy to his day-to-day schedule and I simply can't answer that. A lot of the campaign schedule is subject to frequent changes based on the states you have to be in at any given time.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Given that Mike Huckabee believes in creationism, will you please reassure those of us who have more faith in science than does Huckabee as to what type of person a President Huckabee would appoint to be the White House Science Advisor?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Gov. Huckabee, if you look at his 10 1/2 years as governor, never tried to impose his beliefs on anyone. From the statements I've heard on his beliefs in creation in no way disparage his confidence and value in modern science. I don't think those beliefs -- which he has been open about and believe the American public deserves to know about them -- would infringe on the sorts of people he would have in his administration. I think that's the greatest confidence people can have, those 10 1/2 years of experience. As he said, he never tried to put a church steeple on the capitol dome, and would never try to use the authority of government in that way.

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Philadelphia: What is it about being governor of Arkansas that makes it such a stepping stone toward serving as president?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Well, I really think, as you look at recent U.S. history, the American people have tended to lean toward governors and the experience that executives have, whether it's a small rural state like Arkansas or a big state like California. The experience of being a chief government executive best serves one when preparing to be president of the United states, and running Arkansas, though a much smaller budget, is a microcosm of running the U.S., with all the different agencies involved. That's why you have to go all the way back to Sen. John Kennedy to find someone who had been elected directly from the U.S. Senate to the White House. We have had a lot of experience electing governors to the White House, including Reagan and Clinton. Gov. Romney points to his business experience, but nobody except Mike Huckabee has more than a decade's experience as the chief executive of a state government, so I really believe that provides him great qualifications for serving as president.

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Washington: Thank you for taking questions, senator. True or false: Gov. Huckabee has been running for either vice president or talk show host the entire time -- he never had any intention of winning. Thank you.

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: (Laughs) That's absolutely not true. I think if he were running for talk show host he could have dropped out after being on Leno, as he did such a good job there. Seriously, though he's running all-out for the nomination. He certainly has made it very clear from his early announcement and every pronouncement since that his goal is to win the nomination of the Republican Party. That hasn't been "win at any cost," he's been a very positive candidate, sometimes over the objections of his political advisors, but he doesn't have some hidden agenda to land somewhere else.

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New York: Sen. Hutchinson: I think in the current climate, the best chance for the Republican Party to keep the White House is running an Easterner or Westerner, as opposed to a Southerner with strong religious convictions (taking the whole Romney religion issue out of the equation for the sake of argument). Because the press was so vicious in mocking the president's faith, do you think Gov. Huckabee, so popular among evangelicals can win in a general election? The press alone would put him a few steps back.

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Yeah, I think that's a great question and it's on the minds of a lot of people who would like to support Gov. Huckabee. Any comparison with Bush falters because Huckabee has excelled most with questions of his own faith. These questions, generally designed to embarrass him, have been answered candidly. As far as geography, I don't know that it matters much any more. The base of the Republican part traditionally has been the South and the West, and the coasts have not been as kind. So I think there's some logic to electing a Southern governor. I know the question of expanding beyond evangelicals will continue to remain out there until he wins a state other than Iowa, but his message provides hope for working-class Americans, something not often heard from Republicans, and his values message is one that connects with voters far beyond his Southern evangelical base.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is Huckabee staying in the race just to make sure that Romney can't get the nomination? I truly believe that Huckabee would like the nomination but knows he isn't going to get it. McCain almost seemed to give a nod in that direction to Huckabee in his speech last night. Doesn't it seem a bit like -- while each of the Republican candidates wants the nomination -- as long as Romney doesn't get it, they will be content?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Well, certainly that's not the reason Gov. Huckabee stays in the race. It's not the first time that it's been suggested that dividing conservative voters between Huckabee and Romney is the only path the nomination for Sen. McCain. I reject that. I think there are enough issues being raised about the records of Romney and McCain that there is a pathway there for a consistent conservative like Mike Huckabee. He is running strong in a number of Super Tuesday states, and a strong showing could reshape the presidential campaign. We've seen that a number of times -- Giuliani was the front-runner and McCain was dead, and look now. We've selected 10 percent of the delegates to the convention, and that's a little early to say that someone who won in Iowa and placed second and South Carolina ought to get out of the way for another candidate.

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Columbia, S.C.: A 2007 audit of the Department of Education revealed that one of the private lenders had over-billed the department by more than #288 million dollars. The Education Department Secretary refuses to collect the overpayment. Those are tax dollars. What would Gov. Huckabee do if he were elected president?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Without knowing, personally, the background of this issue and the actual basis of the question, certainly Gov. Huckabee has made clear that he wants greater transparency and accountability in government. If the facts are as described, then it ought to be investigated. Speaking personally, it's a very important role of Congress to look into these sorts of things with oversight hearings. But Gov. Huckabee has campaigned vigorously on changing Washington, the abuse, the fraud, the overuse of earmarking. So I think you'd be pleased with how Gov. Huckabee would respond to any kind of scandal like that.

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Dowagiac, Mich.: Does the Huckabee Campaign have a plan in place for dealing with the media's claim that this is a two-man race and that Huckabee is in the race only to deny votes for Romney?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Sure, the media is very frustrating for those in politics. They really want a two-man race, and it's pretty obvious in the kind of coverage that you see. My response -- I was asked that last night -- was number one, as of last night, there were three national polls in the past week, all of which had Gov. Huckabee second behind McCain, ahead of Romney. So on what basis does anyone decide who is in the two-man race. Why should it be Huckabee who drops out? That's just the way the media operates.

The strategy for dealing with that is winning some states, and I think on Super Tuesday he will -- looking particularly at Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee -- there's a half-dozen states where he's leading or close, where the total delegates would be 250-300. Plus he would pick up delegates in other states with proportional distribution. I understand the desire of the media to thin this out to two people, but if there's two we expect Gov. Huckabee to be one of them. He's done more with fewer resources than any other campaign, for sure. He's determined not to go in debt, I admire that, he hasn't taken out a loan like McCain did, and he can't write a big personal check, even if he wanted to. But after the second-place showing in South Carolina, thousands gave money to his campaign to keep it going.

We've got to see where it goes, but I think there's a plan and a way for Gov. Huckabee to take this all the way to the convention.

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Houston: Sen. Hutchinson, it seems that tonight's debate might be Gov. Huckabee's last big chance to gain any significant traction before Super Tuesday. What message does he intend to communicate tonight, and how will he set himself apart from the other candidates?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: First of all I agree entirely that the debate tonight is very very important, a huge opportunity for Gov. Huckabee to impact the race, and I also would say that Gov. Huckabee has excelled in these debates. When he was in the one or two percent range in the polls, it was his performance there that vaulted him into the top tier and got the attention of the national media. He's very bright, articulate and quick on his feet. So we think this is a big opportunity for him.

As far as differentiating himself, he will continue to emphasize the themes that have been the hallmark of his campaign. He's the only one with a message for blue-collar working class Americans, what used to be called the Reagan Democrats, which our party has allowed to drift away. He's the only one who has brought dramatic new ideas to the campaign, in particular his advocacy of the FairTax, that's a clear differentiator. In Florida, when the issue was raised about the stimulus package, working its way through Congress, Gov. Huckabee said it was a good first step but was the only one who came back with an alternative approach -- putting $150 billion quickly into infrastructure using American companies and concrete, to the benefit of American taxpayers. He has in every debate distinguished himself, and he will again tonight.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: What are the differences between Gov. Huckabee, Gov. Romney and Sen. McCain on the major national issues?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: I would say that there are differences with Gov. McCain on the Bush tax cuts -- Gov Huckabee supports them. There's a difference on the immigration bill that Sen. McCain sponsored, that I think most conservatives viewed as a form of amnesty. Gov. Huckabee says he opposes that approach. I think in the case of Gov. Romney, they've taken similar positions on many issues, but there has been something I think that distinguishes Gov. Huckabee clearly -- Mike has always held these positions. With Gov. Romney, many of these conservative positions are newly found. That most obviously would be the case on the abortion issue. Gov. Romney until fairly recently in his life was pro-choice, and rather forcefully so. Gov. Huckabee has been strongly pro-life from his time in college in the seminary. The consistency over a lifetime is something different. I think also the general tenor of Gov. Huckabee's campaign and his sensitivity to working-class Americans separates himself from other candidates. He's expressed concern for instance about trade deals that are harmful for the American worker. So I think that gives you a little flavor for how he distinguishes himself from his major competitors.

When I was campaigning with him in Iowa, what I kept hearing from voters was that they sensed he was exactly who he seems to be, that their are no pretenses or airs about him. Without disparaging the other candidates -- good people and great Americans -- there is an authenticity about Gov. Huckabee that really has appealed to a lot of Americans. Listening last night to coverage of Florida, I remember some of the pundits kind of laughing that Huckabee was seen in his hotel carrying his own suitcase. The political class is viewed as being so distant from the kinds of lives the average Americans live. Mike Huckabee grew up poor and never has forgotten that life, so he empathizes with people who are struggling more than any candidate I've seen in either party.

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Brockport, N.Y.: Given that Mike's funds are a little lower than the other GOP candidates, how does he expect to be able to compete in many of the states that will require a significant amount of money to advertise and campaign?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: That I think is his big challenge. The campaign has had a lot of its staff who have said they wanted to go without salary for a few weeks, so that more of the resources of the campaign could go into media purchases. From the very beginning of his campaign, he's tried to run a national campaign. Gov. Romney tried to win Iowa, then New Hampshire and slingshot to the nomination. Gov. Huckabee has competed everywhere. He went to Michigan even though no one thought he could win. He's done, I think without question, more earned media -- not purchased media -- to get his message out. I always was just amazed to see him doing television interviews at 11 p.m. one after another, and then up at 6 a.m. for the morning shows. That has allowed us, with less money, to compete credibly with these better-funded candidates. 20-1 he was outspent by Gov. Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, and despite that he's right there competing in the national numbers. I think that's because he's been able to earn a lot of media rather than paid ads. They have a big SuperDuperTuesday primary day ad buy that's critical. The last thing I'd say is that for an underfunded campaign to compete it relies on an abundance of grassroots networking. In every state, without guidance from the campaign, are networks that have organized themselves to get the message out. All of that has allowed him to stay in the race and compete very viably with the better-funded campaigns.

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Edmond, Okla.: Don't you think Mike's campaign has been important in ways perhaps the major media is either unaware of, or ignoring? For instance, bringing the discussion of a new tax system to the national stage?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Absolutely. I think his campaign, whether he wins the nomination or not, is having a dramatic impact on the future of the party. The FairTax is a very valid point -- it's been out there and debated for years, but it has not had a champion willing to profile it in a national campaign as Gov. Huckabee has done. When analysts question him about the FairTax -- almost dismissively because of the need for a constitutional amendment among other things -- they would say "other than that, because it's not happening, what would you do economically?" And governor Huckabee would bring it back, because that's what leadership requires. The party is trying to redefine itself after the losses in the last election, and I think Gov. Huckabee is having a huge impact in that debate ,which will go on for some time to come.

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Reading, Pa.: Sir: This year more than ever before we have seen candidates' spouses on the front lines campaigning. Mrs. Huckabee however seems the antithesis of all that. What can you tell us about her views and whether she has much of an advisory role in the campaign?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: I'm not sure where you've been. Janet Huckabee has been everywhere, campaigning both with her husband and on her own itinerary. She's been very active in this campaign, as has his entire family, with his daughter acting as field director and his son doing advance planning. As first lady of Arkansas, I can tell you Janet was somebody who spoke her own mind, enjoyed life absolutely thoroughly so you never knew what she was going to do -- waterskiing, bear hunting, skydiving, etc. So from a policy standpoint I don't think Janet Huckabee would see herself as an advisor, but she's a confidante and supporter and would have a very active agenda of her own priorities and agendas. She's quite an amazing person and would make for a very exciting first lady.

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Washington: Although this chat is about Gov. Huckabee; what interest, if any, do you have in getting back into politics?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Uh, none. I'm doing this purely as a volunteer and because of my confidence and faith in Gov. Huckabee, but if Gov. Huckabee were to be elected I would not take any position in his administration. It's been gratifying to help Gov. Huckabee in the political arena for a while, but it's also reminded me why I don't want to run for office ever again. So I'm in a post-Senate life and very happy with what I'm doing.

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Myrtle Beach, S.C.: As a Huckabee supporter, I was extremely upset with the unequal amount of air-time he had to speak during the Florida debates (even though he was quite brilliant with what he said when he did speak). What will Gov. Huckabee do tonight to ensure that he gets time to be heard? The more people hear him, the better they love him. He just needs to take the time tonight...

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: I totally agree, and I noticed it more in the Florida debate than in any previous debate, that by the questions and where they aimed them that they were trying to turn it into a two-person race. They weren't very fair to Gov. Huckabee. Some of these debate formats make it very difficult if the questioners don't want to give you a shot for you to get the time you want. Gov. Huckabee will be aggressive, but you can be overly so, and I think he's balanced himself well. Hopefully with not having Giuliani or Thompson in the debate, there will be a fair opportunity for each of the remaining candidates to make their cases.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: I'm impressed that Gov. Huckabee has embraced the audacious FairTax. It is interesting to note, however, that Jacksonville (a large FairTax enclave) went to Romney. Do you believe that Huckabee's FairTax will catch fire in this election cycle?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Well, it's been a centerpiece of his economic message, and I think it's got a new degree of attention, more so than ever before. Other candidates talk about its supporters showing up at their events. So yeah, I think it has a good chance of yet catching on in the campaigns remaining months. There are few instruments of government that people fear more than the IRS, and the simple message that we could fund the government without it really connects with people and has an appeal. So regardless of the nomination fight, the program the governor has espoused won't go away, and that debate will continue.

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Vice president: Has Gov. Huckabee indicated who he might select as his running mate?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: No, he has not. He's talked in general terms about the kind of person he'd want, but in all honesty I think it's premature for any of these candidates to be talking about running mates right now. We're early yet in this process. The governor has said in general the sorts of things like Duncan Hunter would make a wonderful Secretary of Defense, but as far as specific individuals for VP, no I have not heard any discussion about that.

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Burnsville, Minn.: Mike has the most relevant experience out of the candidates and he has had great success during his experience. Throughout his political life, he has been the most consistent in his conservative stances through word and action. He has the most innovative plans for the future and is determined to change America for the good. Can you help me understand why there are not more people in some states supporting him? Do you think that the fact he is a strong Christian causes people to ignore all the good he has done?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: That could be. Gov. Huckabee has an outstanding record in Arkansas, with a huge surplus, improved highways and bridges after we were by most evaluations one of the worst states in the country. There was a similar improvement in education. He had an across-the-board tax cut. I think there has been an effort by his opponents, and the media sometimes too, to marginalize the governor. So I think that is one reason why more people aren't flocking to his cause. he's had to overcome that portrayal as just a "Southern" or "evangelical" candidate. I come back time and time again to believing that of all our candidates, Mike Huckabee is the most election. This is going to be a very difficult year for Republicans, and Mike has the kind of affability and strong policy positions and record, that he's the kind of candidate that would give us the best chance of retaining the White house.

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Dallas: There is no doubt in my mind that Sean Hannity's dishonest proclamation that "Huckabee is pulling out of the race in Florida" hurt the Huckabee campaign there. Is there anything that your campaign plans on doing to fight back against the talking head's love affair with Romney?

Sen. Tim Hutchinson: Well, you know, I think it's just the nature of politics. You'll never be totally happy with how the media treats you. Mike is never afraid to do shows in media situations that may be hostile. He went on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert just before the caucuses, he's been on "Hannity &Colmes" a number of times, and I think that sort of openness eventually wins people over. He's hard not to like, and he does such a good job with tough questions that my advice to the campaign is to keep putting him out there as much as possible.

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Sen. Tim Hutchinson: There are more than 20 states voting next Tuesday, and to all of you who are in those states, I hope you'll take serious your responsibility to vote. Who you vote for matters, and if you're voting for Gov. Huckabee make sure you get out there, and if you're not, don't worry about staying home. If you're voting for Huckabee, take five people with you to the polls. We need to get the message out there that money does not control these campaigns, and that an underfunded candidate with a great message can win. Thanks very much to washingtonpost.com for this opportunity.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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