IN THE AIR BETWEEN ORLANDO, FLA. AND ATLANTA -- "We have a lot of empty seats right now," Mike Huckabee told reporters last night, who had just learned the campaign would no longer be arranging charter flights for the media. Only about 15 of 50 seats were occupied – including Huckabee and his staff. A few news outlets had pulled their journalists while many staffers had dropped off to seed support in Florida and Georgia.
Huckabee said the campaign's "frugality" has allowed it to be "pretty nimble." Next to him sat his daughter Sarah, whose official title is national field director, but was at that moment serving as assistant and press secretary.
"We ran a very, very lean operation for a long time…We really need to conserve as much as we can for the media," Huckabee told reporters on their last forseeable airplane trip together.
"We don't have enough, really, people to have field staff all over the states. It's not realistic. So what we'll do is put a leaner team together, we'll save every bit of money"
These days, the campaign is tightening the financial waistband not just to pick up delegates, but to play in Florida. Returning from closed press meetings in the state, Huckabee told reporters the campaign had only expect about 20 people at one event but found "over 200."
"Right now, our plan is to play ball in Florida," he said. "We think we can play here. Obviously every single day is a new day for the campaign, especially since it is as fluid as it is. If we got to Friday, and it looked like, no matter what we do, we're not going to best fourth – I don't think that's going to happen, but I think, who knows – we just have to look at the dynamics everyday. Because it's a winner take all state, we want to go here, but somebody takes it all. There are more delegates in Georgia than there are in Florida."
Huckabee is returning to Florida every day until the debate on Thursday for events and fundraisers while splitting off some time to campaign in Georgia as well.
On the one hand, Huckabee said, "We don't want to wait until the very last week to get into a lot of these key states. Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma. All of those are February 5th states…We need to do some groundwork, and that's why we're trying to discern just what we can get done."
On the other hand, Huckabee said they have had "leads" in Florida when there was no reason for polling well in the state: "We thought, we don't have a single staff person, we don't have a field operation here, we're not running any TV or radio, and we are leading in the polls."
Maybe he's not leading in the polls anymore, but Huckabee seems to be holding out for the hidden returns of his unconventionally decentralized campaign. Huckabee said reports of self-starting MeetUp groups all over the country have had him "in awe."
"While we have our own organization and we're doing our part, there are people acting as free agents out there that are just doing amazing things and organizing states where we don't' have a soul," he said.
Huckabee dismissed rumors he was considering being McCain's vice president:"If you ever start thinking about what's your fall back position," said Huckabee. "That will become your goal."
When told John McCain said Chuck Norris should have his mouth washed out for calling him too old, Huckabee smiled and said, "Look, I don't mess with Chuck Norris, okay?"