Thursday, January 3, 2008

Huckabee, Obama & Peaking

I'm quickly becoming a big fan of Rob Mentzer's blog What's Your Beef?, currently being hosted by the Wausau Herald. Not only does he approve of Sage Francis and the Wire, but we've been having a very cordial back-and-forth (here and here) over the rise of Teh Huckabeez and I think he's got me on the issue of momentum coming out of Iowa.

Huckabee can win Iowa, and probably will (or at least should), but at this point he needs to win by a healthy margin. One of the reasons for this -- and one I hadn't factored into the discussion of when his peaking would have been optimal -- is the fact that GOP primary voters in Iowa are mostly evangelical conservatives (as many as 40%). That's important because what I think a lot of observers (myself included) seem to have forgotten is that Huckabee's boom did start to happen until after the other conservative Christian in the running, Sen. Sam Brownback, dropped out, which happened at around the same time Fred Thompson was demonstrating to the country that he really has no interest in running for the White House. With Brownback leaving and Thompson proving not to be viable, the evangelical vote shifted to the one person who was openly courting in their own language and who was doing very well in the debates.

In other words Huckabee happened to be performing very well on TV, as he had previously, in conjunction with events that he was not able to control, so his boom was something of an accident.

Take a look at Obama's campaign as a contrast. The Obama campaign has run a very smart campaign that I doubt has deviated much from the game plan they set out to implement at the beginning of 2007. They stayed in the back of the pack and let the Senator get his bearings on the stump. As a result, he's gotten more comfortable and better at campaigning during the year. Then, with a month to go before the caucuses, they bring out Oprah. That was likely the moment just before they wanted Obama to peak and it was planned to perfection.

Now, Obama has also enjoyed a boost from circumstances that are out of his control, namely some regrettable decisions by the Clinton campaign, but Obama's team knew when they wanted to peak and got there by campaigning hard on the ground in Iowa. On the other hand Huckabee didn't have the money to do nearly as much campaigning in Iowa, but was able to take advantage of various forms of free/earned media, particularly in the debates. But if Huckabee screws up during just one of those debates last autumn he never becomes anything beyond an afterthought.

But let's go back to the idea of the momentum leaving Iowa, for a minute. New England evangelicals are not as hard core (nor as plentiful) as they are in Iowa, and conservatives in New Hampshire tend to be more of the fiscal variety than the social. Also, New Hampshire voters just don't like southerners. Huckabee needed to coast to victory in the last few weeks. Instead he's made some embarrassing gaffes that have certainly eroded his support (which may not have been all that enthusiastic about getting to the caucuses in the first place). So, when contrasted with a "peaking" operation like Obama's, then yes, Huckabee certainly soared a little too high a little too early. If Obama win Iowa, he'll be in a better position to carry translate his momentum into a New Hampshire victory. Huckabee will have a far more difficult time doing the same.

No comments: