Huckabee Heads Into Rockier N.H. Landscape

Republican presidential hopeful former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, center, is joined by wife Janet as he arrives at a victory party in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008, after being declared the winner of the Iowa Caucus.
AP
This story was written by Lisa Lerer.

Mike Huckabee headed to New Hampshire in a blaze of glory on Thursday night, after his shoestring-and-a-prayer campaign concluded with a surprising 9-point victory.

"We've learned that people really are more important than the purse, and what a great lesson for America to learn," said Huckabee to a crowd of about 400 cheering supporters. "This campaign is not about me, it's about we."

The win gives him added traction before traveling to a far rockier landscape. He trails behind Mitt Romney and John McCain in New Hampshire state polls, a reflection of the state's more moderate, fiscally conservative population.

National campaign chairman Ed Rollins stopped short tonight of predicting a win in New Hampshire but said the campaign had "a really good chance of pressing at least a third and beyond."

In his victory speech at the Des Moines Embassy Suites, Huckabee played up the campaign's classic underdog story. "Most of the pundits believe when you are outspent 50 to one it's impossible to overcome that mountain of money," he said.

The campaign arrived in Iowa in early February and languished, as state Chairman Bob Vander Plaats is fond of saying, as "an asterisk in the polls."

In early December, they began to surge in the polls, powered in part by the state's active population of home schoolers and evangelicals. Born-again or evangelical Christians made up as many as 60% of all Republican caucus-goers and nearly half preferred Huckabee, according to entrance polling conducted by the AP.

Huckabee sold voters a message of change, positioning himself as an outsider to what he called "the Washington/Wall Street axis of power." At the same time, many Washington insiders slammed Huckabee for lacking the gravitas to be president.

Over the past few weeks, Huckabee has faced a barrage of attacks. A press conference Monday to announce he was pulling a negative ad was derided as a stunt. Iowa voters, obviously, had a different take.

"I appreciate that he's not doing a negative campaign," said Carol Gustafson, who said a nasty call she received from the Romney campaign turned her against the candidate. "I would like to hear what they are going to do, rather then what they won't do."

The campaign hopes its win will bring in some much-needed funds. As of the end of September, Huckabee had over $2.3 million, a mere fraction of Romney's over $62 million in the bank. Last week, he bragged on a conference call that he has raised another $5 million online in the past three months as well as several hundred thousand at fundraisers.

Huckabee plans to play as hard as he can in New Hampshire, according to campaign manager Chip Saltzman. For the past two weeks, the campaign has been running two ads statewide that will continue through the primary.

But, in part, New Hampshire will be about surviving until South Carolina.  A big win in the state, which has a much smaller population of voters motivated by social issues, seems unlikely.

The campaign moves forward lagging in money, staff and ground organization. Huckabee employs 50 staffers nationwide, a small fraction of Romney's 200-plus-person team.

Huckabee will likely focus on his tax plan and record as governor of Arkansas, while downplaying the more religious aspects of his faith-based campaign. He will also have to answer more questions about his foreign policy credentials, which have dogged him for weeks in Iowa.

In Iowa, Huckabee has repeatedly praised opponent John McCain, in order to paint Romney as an attack dog. Although Saltzman said the campaign does not plan to attack McCain, having forswore negative campaigning, there might be a bit less praise for the New Hampshire front-runner.

"If this were a marathon, we've only run half of it, but we've run it well," said Huckabee tonight. "From here to New Hampshire and then to the rest of the country."