Huck­abee helped by word of mouth

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Ralph Z. Hallow

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.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

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