Mike Huckabee’s Sizzle in Iowa


Michael Schiffer is The Washington Note’s blogger for the Iowa Caucuses and is a resident of Iowa. He is a program officer in Policy Analysis and Dialogue at the Stanley Foundation based in Muscatine, Iowa — and was previously senior national security adviser and legislative director in the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Thanks Steve, for an overly kind introduction. One of the first things you learn watching campaigns out here, however, is to try to ratchet expectations down, not up, before you go on. . .That said, I’ll do my best to try to provide some snapshots and insight, live from Iowa, for the next thirteen days. After that, we get to go back to being Idaho. Or is it Ohio. . .
The last time I ran into Governor Huckabee — and yes, one of the wonders of living in Iowa is that we get to say things like that — was over the summer, when I, preoccupied on my cell phone, came pretty close to knocking him over as he crossed the street in Muscatine (a small town on the Mississippi). At the time he seemed happy to have the attention, accidental and near injurious or otherwise.
Today in Coralville — the big-box suburb of Iowa City — was a slightly different story. The hotel room used for his “meet and greet” was overflowing, and filled with the sort of positive buzz and electricity that campaigns just can’t buy. Huckabee is the breakout phenomenon of the 2008 campaign in Iowa (all apologies to Barack Obama and Ron Paul), and in the flesh here in Iowa its easy to see why.

To start with, Mike Huckabee is astonishingly normal. He strikes you as someone who could just as easily be your neighbor as standing behind the podium running for president. That counts for a lot here. And he is a fantastic storyteller. He starts off with Chuck Norris jokes and then moves on to telling the tale of a rag-tag citizenry rising up in 1776 against the “most efficient, best equipped, and best financed” army in the world — leaving little doubt by the end which campaign is rag-tag — but blessed by God — and which one has the army of advisors, consultants and fund-raisers.
And a few God references aside, Huckabee does not need to pound on the “God stuff” the way some others do; its clear where he is on that question. . .But, just to be safe, I suppose, he was introduced as “someone who understands there are more important things than politics” and, in case anyone missed what that meant, as “capable, qualified, and Christian”.
Huckabee also connects with the crowd as an economic populist and proponent of small town values. For most Iowans, that works in spades. “Designer labels” came up a few times, at places oddly, as a shorthand reference to the class and cultural divides within our nation and within the Republican electorate here, too. His “fair tax” plan, while in reality highly regressive, is sold as for the little guy, the small businessman. (And elicits revival style call-and-response murmurs from the audience.)
And he hits the mark on national security with his “Billy Jack” doctrine — both on substance and the demographics of his crowd. (The half stump speech half stand-up routine, punctuated by a dimpled smile, really works.) Just as important as hitting any of the policy points he closes out his speech by a naked appeal for help — “I need you” — and an appeal to Iowa and Iowans’ sense of their anointed role in selecting presidential candidates, telling the crowd that “if I win here it will “solidify the role of Iowa caucus like nothing else would”.
There can be little question that Mike Huckabee has the big mo in Iowa right now. And talking to people after the event its clear why: He comes across as real and genuine and down to earth — but as someone who shares the values of a republican electorate that, for caucus-going purposes, is almost half evangelical, and with the “experience” box checked by his years in the governor’s mansion.
But Iowa, as every political commentator will tell you, is all about organization and a good “ground game”. If you can’t translate inspiration into organization, as numerous non next president’s of the United States can tell you, you won’t make it past caucus night. And Mike Huckabee, for all the good feeling he generates as he bounces around the state, is flying by the seat of his pants. When we arrived at the hall for his speech no one was there yet to hand out the all important supporter pledge cards that let the campaign identify supporters and make sure they show up on caucus night. And when we left the cards were there, but it was hard to tell if there was any staff to collect them.
The story of a rag-tag rebel army overcoming the well-oiled machine of empire is a good one. And, like the colonialists, the Huckabee campaign can rely on alternate social networks that can be effectively organized and mobilized that traditional power-centers might not recognize or be able to tap into. And in just thirteen days we will see if history repeats itself for Mike Huckabee here in Iowa.
— Michael Schiffer


11 comments on “Mike Huckabee’s Sizzle in Iowa

  1. pauline says:

    Mike “Religious” Hucksterbee now reverses himself on illegal alien education. Which idea do you really believe, Huckster?
    “Immigration ally: Shame on Huckabee”


  2. pauline says:

    Compare the Hucksterbee with what Ron Paul said to Tim Russert.
    “It reminds me of what Sinclair Lewis once said, he says: ‘When fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.'”
    Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) argues to Meet the Press’ Tim Russert that in the statement above, he is not calling presidential contender and Republican competitor Mike Huckabee a fascist, but what could be the image of a cross planted in a recently released Huckabee campaign ad brought the quote to his mind.
    Paul does, however, believe that the United States has adopted fascist leanings. Changes in the country’s tone, says the Congressman, such as the PATRIOT Act, questioning dissenters’ patriotism during the war, and civil liberties abuses indicate corporatism, or “soft fascism,” namely a stronghold by the military-industrial complex on society.
    “So,” Russert follows up, “you think we’re close to fascism?”
    Mentioning a documentary entitled “Freedom to Fascism,” Paul responds, “We’re not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we’re moving toward a softer fascism: Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military-industrial complex, you have the medical-industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars.”
    “That’s where the control is,” says the Congressman. “I call that a soft form of fascism — something that’s very dangerous.”
    see —


  3. jhm says:

    I’m not sure if this is part of Mr. Schiffer’s job description, but at least as important as a feel for local reaction to the candidates are the kind of process questions that seem to be dismissed as ‘too complicated’ by the MSM, who’s reporting leans heavily on the quantitative, i.e., polling data. This includes, but is not limited to the size of the average caucus (both in eligible voters, and usual attendees), average distance to the location, time the procedures takes et cetera.
    There has been scant information on who ‘likely’ caucus attendees have been in the past, or are thought to be this time around, and as it appears that the estimation of the make-up of likely voters is both highly subjective and enormously consequential in shifting polling numbers, this kind of information would seem to me to be very helpful.
    I’m not sure if these questions aren’t too vague to be answered, or if the answerers themselves are unable to filter out their own subjectivity, but they are the one’s I would like to see addressed.


  4. Don Bacon says:

    It ain’t over ’til it’s over. Remember 2004?
    FRANKEN–CNN: [Iowa], of course, is just crawling with candidates and volunteers who are turning what had been a race for Howard Dean, who was beginning to run away with it, into more of a dead heat. It looks like the top four candidates are all bunched together, if one can believe the polls. The polls, of course, have so many variables that it’s very hard to say how accurate they’re going to be.
    news report: With 98 percent of the nearly 2,000 precincts reporting, Kerry won 38 percent of the state convention delegates, with 32 percent for Edwards, 18 percent for Dean and 11 percent for Gephardt, according to figures reported by the Iowa Democratic Party.


  5. Swanny says:

    Nice piece, Michael. It’s important to hear what things feel like in the rooms out there as opposed to what people in NY or DC think about what they might be like.


  6. Kathleen says:

    Saints preserve us… is the country ready for a President Chuckabee? In his ad, he says Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse anyone, he tells the world how it’s gonna be?
    Oh, reeeeeely? Not me., buddy.
    No Chuckleberry Huck for me.


  7. Bill R. says:

    Great post! Mike Huckabee on the right is touching the mood of Middle America. I read recently he is “channelling” John Edwards. John Edwards is touching the mood of the country on the left. They both are hitting on the angst of the middle class about economics and about values. I would love to see an election with those two as candidates. If John Edwards can emerge from Iowa as the champion of the survival of the middle class, he can take it all.


  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    This country is in deep shit.


  9. Linda says:

    Schiffer already has earned Steve’s accolades with his first greetings from the ground in Iowa. Since I am in a minor Super Tuesday state (GA), have decided on Obama, I have become totally turned-off by too many months of primary campaigning. At times I wonder if I could stand to hear four more years of any of them as President. Obama and Huckabee undoubtedly would be the candidates easiest on the ears for four years. Huckabee scares me just because he is so appealing and “down-to-earth.”
    I’d love to know how Obama or anyone would run against the “Fair tax” that I think of as Atlanta’s gift to regressive public policy. Of course, I’d heard about flat tax type plans for decades before I moved to here in spring 2005 and learned how popular Neal Boortz is as a morning radio Libertarian talk show host. A few months later his best-selling book put the Fair Tax out there nationally. It does sound appealing with no more IRS or tax returns, but it is such a regressive tax.
    The 21st century may not be all that different from the 20th–am thinking William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, etc. Progress or regress?
    I used Huey Long with some concern and rejcted Elmer Gantry. Huckabee is scary because I think he is an honest. The reason he is scary as he could make Obama look like Kerry.


  10. Steve Clemons says:

    jonst — I think Michael Schiffer is calling it as he sees and hears it. I’d much rather know how people are absorbing Huckabee so that I can understand the real dynamics at play there — rather than just berating anyone for their views, or the reporter (which I know you didn’t intend to do).
    best regards for the holidays,
    Steve Clemons


  11. jonst says:

    ” He comes across as real and genuine and down to earth”. Ah this is great! Here we go again! That is, almost, precisely the kind of coverage Bush got in 2004. They guy you want ‘have a beer with’ and all that shit! You can’t make this stuff up. You really can’t. Elmer Gantry for President! If Iowans feel that way about than Iowans are fools.


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