Huckabee Given Chance to Compete Following Iowa Straw Poll

My initial impression to the news of the Iowa straw poll results was that it was a victory for Mike Huckabee, an insufficient victory for Mitt Romney, and a serious loss for Ron Paul’s supporters who believe the campaign’s goal is victory as opposed to spreading a message. Other bloggers have shared this view that Mike Huckabee, as opposed to Mitt Romney, may have come out of the straw poll with the victory.

TNR writes:

Whatever the case, it’s hard to overstate the significance of Huckabee’s performance here. Combined, Huckabee and Brownback–the field’s two leading social conservatives–outpolled Mitt Romney today 33 to 31.5. If, as the results suggest, Huckabee emerges as the lone standard bearer for this group, he’ll probably end up with a block of support to rival Romney’s. (Most “Brownbackers” I spoke to would feel extremely comfortable throwing their support behind the Arkansan.) But, of course, just combining Brownback’s and Huckabee’s numbers actually way understates Huckabee’s potential ceiling. For one thing, he’s come this far running on fumes. It will be interesting to see what he can do with the fundraising boost he’ll enjoy after today. On top of that, there seem to be a lot of social conservatives currently supporting Romney because he’s running as the most conservative of the top-tier candidates. Now that Huckabee has demonstrated his viability, it’s not hard to imagine him peeling off a decent number of Romney’s conservative backers.

A final thought: The political press is absolutely head over heels for Huckabee. (There were high-fives all around when it became clear he’d finish second.) He’s a genuinely endearing guy who can banter with the best of them–watching him with reporters brings to mind the old black and white footage of Babe Ruth jawboning with sportswriters. When you add that to the political media’s general affinity for underdogs, you can see how Huckabee’s about to enjoy some serious media afterglow, which will only further boost his profile. With Romney suddenly vulnerable among conservatives and McCain and Giuliani both languishing here–last Sunday’s Washington Post poll had McCain at 8 percent and Giuliani at 14, compared with Romney’s 26–you may well have just met your 2008 Iowa caucus winner.

Captain Ed writes:

Mike Huckabee showed surprising strength in Iowa. Despite not buying any advertising at all in the state, he managed to capture more than half of Romney’s total simply by his appearance at Ames. Huckabee was the most likely second-place finisher in Iowa anyway, simply because of the roster of the people who took the time to appear — but his strength, and the relative strength of the nonentities that have been Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo in this primary campaign show a real problem for Romney in Iowa.

Romney had the opportunity to bury the rest of the field in Iowa. Not only did all three people ahead of him in the national polls bow out for various reasons, but Romney has owned the airwaves in Iowa. Given the low national polling numbers for the GOP second tier — they score roughly 22% combined, if No Opinion gets included — Romney should have at least won somewhere upwards of 40% in Ames, and probably a majority.

The Debate Link writes:

What took many people by surprise (all but the most insightful political observers) was a strong second place showing by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. With his “back against the wall”, Huckabee received a healthy 18% of the vote, well behind Mitt Romney’s total, but also comfortably ahead of third-place finisher and bitter rival Senator Sam Brownback (KS). More importantly, Huckabee achieved his total without the benefits of a huge Iowa operation, all the more impressive when his main competition for the social conservative bloc, Brownback, was heavily invested in Iowa and apparently had 60-100 buses shipping in volunteers from all across the state.

So what’s the overall effect? Well, Huckabee is in a really strong position. I mean, really strong. The primary barrier to his campaign was a lack of money and the perception that he was getting no traction. Well, guess what: he just got the latter, and I suspect the former will follow. Once he’s established as a real player, a whole mess of the support from the social conservative base of the party are natural targets to be poached by his campaign. Does anybody think they’re seriously happy with Romney, Thompson, McCain, or (shudder) Giuliani? Huckabee is the evangelicals’ choice candidate now, and I suspect he’s ready to start converting folks.

Boorman Tribune points out many of Huckabee’s far right positions. However this could be said about all the Republican candidates, including maverick Ron Paul who opposes abortion rights and does not believe that separation of church and state was one of the principles held by the Founding Fathers and an intention of the First Amendment. When compared to the other far right candidates, sometimes he appears to be the most rational Republican running, such as when talking about school prayer. The attack ads from the Club For Growth show that he sometimes varies from Republican orthodoxy on economic issues. However I did lose some confidence in him when he expressed his disbelief in evolution.

The question now is whether Huckabee can capitalize on this victory. His will only have a meaningful victory if his second place finish leads to a significant increase in contributions to his campaign and increased media coverage. He remains a long shot, but there is plenty of time if this allows him become competitive with the first tier candidates in fund raising, considering how soft the support for the top tier candidates is.

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10 Comments

  1. 1
    Buckwheat says:

    Ron,

    I don’t see how 9% is a “serious loss” for Ron Paul. I view it as a good sign of progress for Paul.

    OK, I was hoping for a top 3 finish or even a win and we didn’t get it, so it’s a disappointment in that sense.

    But objectively, Paul has been polling at 2-3% in telephone polls, so his 9% in real-life Ames is an affirmation that his online support can translate.

    Besides, the top 4 finishers in the straw poll (Romney, Huckabee, Brownback, Tancredo) have been camped out in Iowa for the past two months, while Paul had spent much less time there.

    So I do view his 9% as a success, and would be curious to know why you term it a “serious loss.”

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Buckwheat,

    9% and fifth place is quite poor, especially when Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain didn’t even compete. Comparing this year’s turn out to previous years suggests that lots of Republicans who support those candidates didn’t show up, allowing the second tier candidates to get a higher percentage of the vote.

    Everyone expected him to do better than his 2-3% polling numbers under such a situation. Tripling this is far from enough to be competitive, especially as the nine percent is probably a ceiling and he’s likely to fall below that in the actual caucus.

    It also hurts Paul that he failed to meet his campaign’s expectation of coming in third. Another problem for Paul is that Republicans either support him or they don’t. In contrast they have multiple traditional Republicans that they can support. Supporters of the candidates who did poorly will shift their votes to other candidates besides Paul as they drop out of the race, placing Paul even further behind the candidates with a real chance to win.

  3. 3
    Buckwheat says:

    “especially as the nine percent is probably a ceiling and he’s likely to fall below that in the actual caucus.”

    Ron,

    I think you’re underestimating the importance of the “time spent in Iowa” factor in evaluating Paul’s result.

    Here is the number of days each candidate in the top half at Ames has spent in Iowa this year:

    Sam Brownback 115 Days
    Mitt Romney 89 days
    Mike Huckabee 70 days
    Tom Tancredo 66 days
    Ron Paul 17 days

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/014637.html

    As the link shows, Paul had by far the highest Straw Poll Votes-to-Days in Iowa ratio, indicating not the ceiling you describe, but rather room for growth north of that 9%.

  4. 4
    Buckwheat says:

    “Supporters of the candidates who did poorly will shift their votes to other candidates besides Paul as they drop out of the race, placing Paul even further behind the candidates with a real chance to win.”

    Remains to be seen. Tancredo supporters, I would argue, will be more likely to support Paul if Tanc dropped out than any other candidate.

    The two (Paul and Tancredo) are close friends and serve on several House caucuses together. Ideologically, Tancredo is the closest candidate to Paul.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Buckwheat,

    Rationalizations don’t win elections. Only votes, not calculations based upon number of days spent in the state matter. Besides, there are many other factors beyond how much time the candidate spends in the state. Supporters were being bussed in. All along Paul supporters have claimed that their greater intensity of support would allow Paul to do better than expected. In the end, he not only did poorly vote wise, he failed to meet expectations.

    I doubt that the majority of Tancredo supporters will go over to Paul, but even if every one of them does it won’t be enough to make him competitive. Only a small percentage of Republicans would support either Paul or Tancredo.

    If Paul can’t exceed 9% under the conditions of this straw poll, he will have real difficulty topping 6% in the actual caucuses. Even if he doubles this he remains far behind.

  6. 6
    Buckwheat says:

    Ron,

    I think the number of days spent in Iowa is very important; Iowa is known as a “retail politics” state where voters expect to meet candidates in person. The discrepancies between Paul’s days in Iowa and the others’ were huge.

    That’s my evidence for Paul having room to grow north of 9% in Iowa; what is your support for your competing theory, that Paul’s 9% is a ceiling?

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    Buckwheat,

    That’s already been discussed. The absense of three of the major candidates and the reduced turn out gave minor candidates a higher percentage than they would receive in an actual caucus. There was a tremendous effort made in Iowa in the hopes that he would bet a bounce out of beating expectation and instead he failed to meet expectations. There’s the problem of his views being unacceptable to the majority of Republicans.

    Even if somehow Paul could move into first place (which is far fetched) he still wouldn’t necessarily win the nomination in a race with multiple candidates as the party would unite behind someone else. Paul needs to actually get to around 50% to win. Even if I’m wrong that 9% is an upper ceiling for him, he is not going to increase his support by over five times his current level. Thompson, Romney, and Giluliani will remain ahead of him. Most likey McCain, if he remains in the race, Huckabee, and possibly some of the others will remain ahead of Paul.

  8. 8
    Buckwheat says:

    “Even if I’m wrong that 9% is an upper ceiling for him, he is not going to increase his support by over five times his current level.”

    Time will tell. Thanks for the good discussion.

  9. 9
    Liberal Journal says:

    I wrote about my take on the poll results at my blog. Huckabee was the winner, and I think his persona will make him competitive in the coming months.

    As for Paul, I don’t think he did bad at all. He won’t win the nomination for the simple fact that the GOP is a warmongering party, and he is anti-war. That being said, if Thompson drops out (Tommy, not Fred), I can see a lot of his supporters gravitating to Paul. He’s not done by any stretch. I think if he can somehow climb up to 15% or so in the early primary states, he could set himself up for a second Libertarian Party run.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    Liberal Journal,

    You are basically saying the same thing I’m saying. I wrote that Paul will not get the nomination, not that he’s done. Paul will stay in as this is a message campaign–but he will not get the nomination.

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