DES MOINES, IOWA -- A corporation has infrastructure. It has a network of paid employees, a wealth of distribution lines, an ad team, a research department.
The small business man, he has to make things work with very little. Buzz…that's cheap. With some winning words, lots of hustle, and many sleepless nights, a poor man can turn millions of greenbacks out of thin air.
Mike Huckabee is the king of making buzz. The former fat man has made do with his slim campaign by peddling himself to major and not-so-major media outlets. While some well-funded candidates have evaded personal invitations to talk with the free press, Huckabee often grants four one-one-one interviews in a day.
When Huckabee got clobbered for failing to know what the National Intelligence Estimate report was, he said he had spent so much time with reporters that he didn't have time to read the report.
A new poll had just put him in first place in Iowa and he still only had one assistant accompanying him from one state to another. On his schedule that day, December 4th: a company tour where he was hounded by reporters, an open house for journalists at the campaign headquarters, a press conference to announce key endorsements, some closed door interviews, and finally, a media dinner where the NIE exchange occurred.
After Huckabee misspoke recently in Orlando, Fla. and suggested martial law was still occurring in Pakistan, Thompson's campaign highlighted the gaffe to journalists by circulating a "not for attribution" e-mail with a link to the CBS blog entry. Drudge Report picked up the blog, and BAM - it was the talk of every political pundit out there. Reporters receive e-mails and phone calls from opponents attacking Huckabee all the time. Meanwhile, I've followed Huckabee for three months now and I've yet to get a press release or phone call from his campaign attacking another candidate.
If Huckabee had a substantial research team reading him in, he wouldn't be making the errors that have made fact-checkers and spinners ravenous. Sure, Huckabee's trying to stay positive…but let's be honest, Huckabee simply doesn't have the paid manpower to generate negative press releases the way Romney and Thompson campaigns do every day.
For reporters trying to cover Huckabee, it sometimes is easier to schedule an interview with the man himself than it is to get a positive press release from the Huckabee campaign or even an e-mail about the next day's campaign events. His press staff has priorities, and there's simply not enough time for his staff to input everyone's name into the e-mail distribution list.
An almost improbable ascent in Iowa polls has eclipsed from general memory that – as of September 30, the latest numbers available publicly – Huckabee's campaign only had $651,301 cash on hand (Huckabee says his financial situation has improved recently with about $2 million in the bank). With only about 14 to 18 paid staff in Iowa (and that's an improvement), his campaign has been riding a first-tier wave without a lot of time to build even a second-tier infrastructure. Ed Rollins was brought onto the campaign in mid-December to run and build it -less than a month before the Iowa caucus.
As Huckabee has sought to differentiate himself between Romney's "dishonest" attacks and his own "honest" campaign, he has started to consistently deliver this line:
"One of the most important thing a president does is when he looks at the camera and talks to the American people. When the announcer says, ladies and gentlemen, from the Oval Office, the President of the United States – when you turn your attention to me because the president is about to speak. I think, more than anything – you want to believe that person when he talks to you, will be able to tell you the truth."
That's Huckabee – lights, camera, action. He's been working full-time as a camera-ready presidential candidate for a while now. With signs that Romney's on-air and behind-the-scenes negative attacks have started to erode his traction, Huckabee spent Sunday afternoon away from the press and in front of another camera – one paid for by the campaign – shooting ads to rebut Romney's recent critical ads. There's not a lot of time left and Huckabee's going to have to pay real greenbacks for the chance to plead his case.