Huckabee helped by word of mouth
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has gone from near zero to a statistical tie for first in polls of Iowa Republicans, not because of a superior organization or from spending money, but because of a tactic few candidates can copy: Religious word-of-mouth.
“He hasn’t used direct mail and his very first commercial is airing on TV now,” Iowa Republican Party executive director Chuck Laudner said. “The word on Huck is being spread by the news media, on the Internet — and the faith community is pushing Huck by word of mouth, phone trees, e-mail and also through caucus training sessions that occur all over the state.”
Mr. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has raised little money and cannot afford
to hire a large paid staff, but campaign professionals working for other candidates and Republican officials in the state say he has a gift for making people listen to him and like him.
“Iowa is a state where, if you work very hard and are a very good speaker, you can get to speak at a gazillion small meetings and have a gazillion people say, ‘Holy heck, this guy is really good,’ ” confided a veteran Iowa Republican leader with ties to most of the party’s current crop of hopefuls. “That’s what Huckabee has, and most of the others don’t.”
Mr. Huckabee enjoys considerable popularity among churchgoing voters, polls show. Iowa’s churchgoers in turn have helped substitute for his lack of paid staff across the state’s 99 counties by engaging in “viral marketing.”
“The party has caucus trainings for our [county and precinct] chairmen, but the faith community organizes training sessions for their members, which includes planks for the party’s platform, how to run for delegate [to the presidential nomination caucus] and urging a vote for candidates that match their socially conservative belief system,” Mr. Laudner said.
After the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, at which he now is expected either to win or place a strong second, the Huckabee campaign’s next major target is South Carolina, where it hopes the same strategy will work.
“I expect him to use the same viral marketing here as in Iowa,” said Rep. Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican who has endorsed Mr. Huckabee. “Huckabee is the virus, and a bunch of sneezers spread it by word of mouth, forwarding their good impression of him to family members, neighbors, people on their e-mail lists, or folks at work.”
The cause aspect of Mr. Huckabee’s appeal extends beyond the intense loyalty of his evangelical Protestant supporters to secular conservatives and some Republican centrists, Mr. Laudner said.
The other Iowa Republican leader agreed with Mr. Laudner, saying that in candidate debates, speeches and interviews, Mr. Huckabee conveys the image of a genuine foe of abortion and homosexual “marriage” who nonetheless “doesn’t shove his views down people’s throats” and speaks compassionately about homosexuals and immigrants.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has similar views but, according to a former Iowa Republican operative who is neutral in the race, “working for Romney was a way to be against John McCain while waiting for a white knight. Some thought it would be Fred Thompson; that didn’t turn out. And for many, Romney is purely a job. Huckabee is a cause.”
A month after coming in second behind Mr. Romney in the Aug. 11 Iowa Republican straw poll, Mr. Huckabee was still polling at just 4 percent in some surveys of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers. But the campaign of the former Arkansas governor has since taken off.
In the Real Clear Politics survey of six polls since early November, Mr. Huckabee is second in all of them and averages 20.3 percent, behind Mr. Romney’s 27.8 percent and ahead of former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in third at 13.7 percent. In two of the more-recent samples — an ABC News/Washington Post poll and an American Research Group survey — Mr. Huckabee trails Mr. Romney by just 4 percentage points and 2 percentage points, respectively, less than the polls’ error margins.
The internal numbers on “enthusiasm” in the ABC News/Washington Post survey, taken Nov. 14-18, are even more encouraging for the Huckabee camp. Fifty percent of his supporters are “very enthusiastic” about him, 48 percent say their support is “definite” and just 26 percent say there’s a “good chance” they will shift candidates. By contrast, 28 percent of Romney backers are “very enthusiastic,” 29 percent are “definite” supporters and 42 percent say there is a “good chance” they will change their minds.
Also nationally, Mr. Huckabee is now more than the blip on the radar screen he was for so long. A Zogby poll shows him at 11 percent, behind Mr. Thompson’s 15 percent and Mr. Giuliani’s 29 percent, but ahead of Mr. Romney at 9 percent.
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