Huckabee said his phones have been ringing off the hook with potential supporters wanting to sign up. "People who wouldn't even return our calls last week are calling us now and ready to host fundraisers and get on board," he said. The candidate also said that more than 1,000 first-time contributors have given his effort contributions over the Internet at a clip of about $30,000 per day for the days immediately following the straw poll. Huckabee said even some activists both nationally and in key states who have been supporting other candidates are expressing a willingness to get behind his effort.
That's a pretty good return for someone who says he spent less than $90,000 on the event itself — considerably less than what some others spent, including Sam Brownback who finished just behind Huckabee in the voting. It's also a needed boost for a campaign that by the end of June had raised just $1.3 million and had less than $500,000 to spend. Now the question is: What is he going to do with it?
"We've got to continue to build on the momentum that we have, and I realize there's sort of a window of time that can happen, and if we don't capitalize on it, you know it will be a struggle for us and we won't make it all the way to January," Huckabee said. "What we've got to do is doing what we're doing right now — that's going back into New Hampshire, South Carolina and then, the following week back into Iowa, shore up our support in these areas that are the early states."
But Huckabee's ability to turn this moment into a movement appears dependent upon just how big a financial windfall the straw poll turns into. In order to fully compete with the well-financed campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, even in the earlier states, he'll likely need to spend much more than he had raised to this point — and Huckabee noted that he's at a disadvantage compared to some opponents who have personal wealth to tap into. "I don't have a million dollars' worth of assets," he said. "One thing that I can't do is go into debt with the campaign, because I don't the personal resources."
Huckabee acknowledged that he's unlikely to be chartering his own jets — or even running TV ads — anytime soon, but that seemed to suit him just fine. "I don't think we'll ever run the same kind of campaign that you see some of the others running. But you know what happens, some of them couldn't sustain what they ran either," he said in an obvious reference to Sen. John McCain. "It's always better to go up than down, and it's easier to start at the bottom and one day find yourself at the top than to start at the top and experience the very painful and frustrating experience of sliding back down."
For now, Huckabee said, he will spend almost all of his time hitting the stump in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with some time cordoned off for fundraising efforts, which he admits he finds difficult to do personally. Huckabee also said he believes there is "a serious chance" that the New Hampshire primary might be moved all the way up to November of this year in order to preserve that state's first-in-the-nation status and avoid competing with the holiday season. "If, in fact, New Hampshire moves their primary all the way up November, in a way that's good for us because it gives us an early test in a state where I think we will do very well."
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has sole power to set his state's primary date, has long held he will do whatever necessary to keep his state first among primary states. But a November 2007 primary seems unlikely to happen because it could diminish the state's impact on the process. It may be wishful thinking on Huckabee's part because it would give his campaign another short-term goal and opportunity to keep the momentum from the straw poll going.
After claiming second place in Ames, the ordained Baptist minister fell back on a biblical reference, saying his campaign brought "two fish and five loaves" to the event and fed thousands. The question now is whether he can repeat that miracle on a grander scale.
Huckabee says his surprise showing has put him into the top tier of GOP candidates. But if so, it may be a short-lived stay should Fred Thompson finally announce his candidacy and soak up some of the oxygen he needs to thrive. On that issue, Huckabee hinted that Thompson may yet shy away. "I think even his closest supporters are beginning to now question this long period of not pulling the trigger," he said. "You know, the target is only in front of you so long. It's kind of like going deer hunting. You've got a window of opportunity to take a shot. You can hesitate and hope for a better one, and keep holding it and you might get it. But there's a good chance something's going to spook that deer and he's gone. And I'm not but sure that this deer is hearing and smelling something out there." — Vaughn Ververs
Giuliani's Southern Strategy: Rudy Giuliani's visits to South Carolina have been punctuated by questions about the former New York mayor's views on abortion and other hot-button social issues, on which he is to the left of the Republican base. Of all the early-voting states, deeply conservative South Carolina might seem like the least likely place to vote for Giuliani — but it appears he's trying to change that.
The Associated Press reports that Giuliani is launching two radio ads in the state this week. The first concerns immigration — a topic on which he and Mitt Romney have sparred over for the past two weeks. Giuliani doesn't address directly Romney's claim that New York was a "sanctuary city" during his tenure as mayor, but does say he clamped down on illegal immigrants, especially those who committed crimes. "A person who comes here illegally, commits a crime, should be thrown out of the country," he says before discussing his plan to build three fences — a physical fence, a business fence and a technological fence — to keep out illegal aliens.
The second ad again deals with Giuliani's work while mayor, particularly his work on reducing crime, cutting taxes, and trimming welfare rolls. Can the ads help Giuliani win over Palmetto State Republicans? Possibly. A Public Policy Polling survey of South Carolina Republicans shows the race there tightening. While Fred Thompson leads Giuliani, 22 percent to 18 percent, those numbers reflect an 11-point drop for Thompson since June. At the same time, Giuliani's support has increased by 4 percentage points. Perhaps Giuliani's on to something. — David Miller
Obama Wants To Open Up: Barack Obama seems to have latched on to a theme in his effort to overtake Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race: Portray her as a symbol of business-as-usual Washington who gets cozy with lobbyists while casting himself as someone offering new ideas who wants to upend the political establishment.
That message was put into some specific proposals on Wednesday during a speech Obama gave in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Two highlights included a pledge to post all non-emergency bills online for five days before a President Obama would sign them. The senator also said he would disclose all meetings between lobbyists and government agencies.
The first of those promises is especially interesting. Would the public comments received actually shape Obama's actions? And who would get the thankless task of sorting through all the responses? — David Miller
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By Vaughn Ververs and David Miller