Saturday, December 29, 2007

Who the Hell is Ahead in Iowa?

Among the Dems it's anyone's guess. All three candidates have been running neck-and-neck at just under 30% a pop for a few weeks now.

For the GOP the story has been different. Mike Huckabee was the odds-on favorite going into the week between Christmas and New Years, a sort of communications black-out period that many pollsters thought would not provide the most accurate of polling information. An aggregate reading of polls that have been conducted in that black-out period seems to give the former Arkansas Governor with a significant lead, but one ARG poll says that Mitt Romney has got some wind in his sails (just for the sake of some context, the last ARG poll published before the holiday had Huckabee ahead by just 2%).

Rob Mentzer at the Wausau Herald wonders today if Huckabee has peaked too early, something sagging poll numbers and a few untimely gaffes might indicate, but I can't help but think that Huckabee actually didn't peak early enough. His whole strategy has been to assemble a bare bones campaign, go like hell and (literally) pray to God people start paying attention.

Well, it worked.

But did it work early enough?

Chuck Todd was on TV earlier this week saying that many of the Huckabee supporters he had been speaking to were not planning on caucusing this week. So Huckabee may have succeeded in getting the attention of the national media and the political establishment of the GOP, but it may not have happened early enough in the campaign for him to take advantage of generating lists of supporters, collecting volunteers and raising the money necessary that would do the dirty work of reminding voters where the caucuses were going to be held, etc.

Mentzer joins many in making the connection between Huckabee '08 and Howard Dean '04: both are insurgent candidates who appear to be running contrary to the establishment of their respective parties. But there are considerable differences between them. Dean was well-funded, Huckabee is not. The general consensus among pundits is that voters in Iowa thought better of voting for Dean somewhere between their front porches and the caucuses. This year there's a good chance that people who support Huckabee might never even make it to the caucuses in the first place.

Which is why the Huckabee campaign is both wisely and correctly dampening down expectations by saying that that no one should expect the campaign to pull off a win because it is going up against larger operations ...

Still, the Dean analogy may be more apt in another way that I've seen only discussed once with regards to Huckabee. When Dean's campaign collapsed in '04 he was able to parlay the momentum he had built as a candidate and turn that into the chairmanship of the Democratic Party where he has been rather successful at bringing about much needed reforms. A few weeks ago, Zev Chafets profiled Huckabee for the NY Times Magazine and pointed out the following:

[I]f Mike Huckabee, who has no profession except the ministry and no personal fortune, doesn’t wind up on the government payroll next year, he will need a new job. He might just decide he’d like to be the next Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell, a national evangelical leader who saves souls for Christ as he counsels presidents and brokers political power.

(emphasis added)

That's a job that doesn't require too much foreign policy experience and for which the former Arkansas governor is uniquely qualified. Mike Huckabee has the least to lose of all the candidates running for President and possibly the most to gain by losing with honor. Howard Dean's revolution didn't stop after his infamous scream in Iowa, it just changed venues. If Huckabee doesn't make it through all of the firewalls the GOP will set up for him in the coming weeks I'm sure he'll find similar success as someone who bridges the gap between the evangelical community and politics.


Rob M. said...

I take your point on the
Dean/Huckabee differences. Huckabee's Iowa supporters are probably less likely than were Dean's to change their minds "somewhere between their front porches and the caucuses" -- they like Huckabee personally and see him as the only "true" social conservative in the race, so they probably won't waiver in the caucus room.

But the point about peaking too early is that Huckabee's rise happened so fast that Romney, previously the frontrunner, was provoked into launching sustained attacks on him. And the attacks have clearly connected -- Huckabee is not as far ahead in Iowa as he was just a couple weeks ago. If he'd risen to frontrunner a liiiittle later than he did, Romney's attacks might not have had time to take hold.

Huckabee as a faith leader a la Falwell? Sounds pretty plausible to me...

Jb said...

Here's a similar argument.