Straw poll show­ing re­vives Huck­abee bid

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan and Eric Pfeif­fer

Mike Huck­abee par­layed a South­ern gov­er­nor’s folksy charm, four out­stand­ing de­bate per­for­mances and a pop­ulist eco­nomic mes­sage that sets him apart from the rest of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial field into a sec­ond-place fin­ish in this month’s Iowa pres­i­den­tial straw poll.

Now he hopes he can take the leap from also-ran to first-tier con­tender — and his cam­paign says they are al­ready see­ing the turn. He said his straw-poll show­ing trans­lated into more than 1,000 new on­line donors in three days, and he has added fundrais­ers in 16 states over the next three months, try­ing to help his cam­paign fi­nances catch up with his cam­paign mes­sage.

“There’s a new life in our cam­paign,” Mr. Huck­abee, who served 10 years as Arkansas gov­er­nor, told re­porters on Aug. 16.

That Mr. Huck­abee has a knack for con­nect­ing with vot­ers is ob­vi­ous, but Rich Thau, a cam­paign com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant who is con­duct­ing fo­cus groups on the de­bates, has mea­sured it and says Mr. Huck­abee was lit­er­ally off the chart in one of his an­swers in the Aug. 11-12 week­end de­bate.

Mr. Thau does dial-test­ing, in which vot­ers con­stantly rate per­for­mances by turn­ing a dial to in­di­cate their ap­proval of what a can­di­date is say­ing. He posts his re­sults on his Web site, www.mes­sage­jury.com, and he says in the de­bate, vot­ers scored Mr. Huck­abee’s blunt “Let’s get it done” an­swer on en­ergy in­de­pen­dence at a 98 out of 100, putting it in the realm of “moth­er­hood and ap­ple pie.”

“He has yet to de­liver a dud re­sponse in any of the four GOP de­bates,” Mr. Thau said call­ing him the Ted Wil­liams of the de­bates for com­bin­ing con­sis­tency with his abil­ity to hit a home run. “Huck­abee has that abil­ity to bring the en­tire is­sue down to a sin­gle sen­tence where peo­ple go, ‘Yeah, that makes sense to me.’ ”

Fo­cus-group par­tic­i­pants say Mr. Huck­abee is “very gen­uine, they say he’s very well-spo­ken. He has a good sense of hu­mor and is witty,” Mr. Thau said. “He is ex­cel­lent in fram­ing his an­swers and putting all of his an­swers in some sort of val­ues-based frame, and it doesn’t mat­ter the is­sue — he al­most al­ways says why it mat­ters.”

On the cam­paign trail be­fore the straw poll, Mr. Huck­abee fired off one-lin­ers to big and small au­di­ences alike, used self-dep­re­ca­tion freely, and as a staunch pro­life ad­vo­cate even man­aged to find com­mon ground with a pro-choice voter who at­tended his town hall in Spencer, Iowa.

Af­ter a back-and-forth, the wo­man told Mr. Huck­abee that while she wasn’t swayed, she was im­pressed with how well he jus­ti­fied him­self: “I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate that you can de­scribe that.”

Mr. Huck­abee, who says he was brought up in a house­hold where next month’s rent was never guar­an­teed, also sets him­self apart from the field with a clear pop­ulist mes­sage that even some Demo­cratic strate­gists are start­ing to note as a po­tent po­lit­i­cal force.

“When I hear the head­lines the econ­omy is do­ing great, I know it is, from a macro sense,” Mr. Huck­abee said. “But if you go out and talk with peo­ple who work on the floors of fac­to­ries or you talk to wait­resses who are do­ing their sec­ond job, and school­teach­ers who have to work an ex­tra job, you don’t hear quite the con­fi­dence about how great the econ­omy’s do­ing.”

“That’s a sen­si­tiv­ity that a pres­i­dent bet­ter have, be­cause there are a whole lot of peo­ple out there like that,” he said.

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