The standard line on Iowa has been that Romney has sown up the win while Huckabee will get the press from his second place finish.
That alone has the Romney-ites concerned. Hugh has argued forcefully that a vote for Huckabee is a vote for Giuliani, declaring that it is a ‘two-man race‘ for the Republican nomination. He points to the shortened election cycle, the need for organization, and Huckabee’s lack of funds as reasons why Huckabee’s showing in Iowa won’t–can’t–launch him into the nomination.
I don’t have Hugh’s political experience or expertise, and I’m not on anyone’s payroll. To be blunt, this is as close as I’ve ever followed an election season. So I have no little amount of fear and trembling in disagreeing with Hugh’s assessment.
But I can’t help it. I do disagree.
For one, the shortened election cycle this year is accompanied by a shorter news cycle. What’s more, my hunch is that the likely voters on super-tuesday and elsewhere will be watching Iowa closely, giving him a significant boost in finances and support. Huckabee’s most significant problem is still the lack of name recognition–but 48 hours of advertising can go a long ways toward overcoming that difficulty.
In addition, it seems clear that the likely voters for Huckabee and Romney are very different. Romney’s, not surprisingly, are big money folk who will pay for the ads but probably won’t knock on doors. And if the numbers are right, they’re not as committed to their guy as Huckabee’s people are. Huckabee’s, on the other hand, are homeschooling types who are devoted to helping him win. That loyalty translates into an evangelistic zeal that Huckabee’s people have that can go a long ways in a hurry to overcome a weak infrastructure (see, for instance, Huckabee’s web numbers, which are equal to Hillary Clinton’s).
In my mind, then, whether Huckabee can win the nomination is still an open question. What is certain, however, is that if Huckabee does win the nomination, he will have earned it. But that’s what the process is about, right?
Can he win the White House, though?
There may be no one on payroll in Washington who thinks he can, which only exemplifies to me Washington’s isolation from the rest of the country (most of whom haven’t started thinking hard about the elections). Huckabee’s charisma and charm is as potent–if not moreso–than Bill Clinton’s (yes, I hate the comparison, but it’s accurate) who was easily the most charismatic President since Reagan.
We can bemoan the fact that people vote on charisma, but until that changes, in a race against Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee will win handily. She’s demonstrated her brittleness, and no Republican candidate is more able to stay likeable while being firm than Mike Huckabee (see: smack-down of Ron Paul in the New Hampshire debate).
I’d ask one question, which I am curious about: at what point do people start saying that a vote for Romney is a vote for Giuliani? Yes, he’s clearly ahead of Huckabee, but if he loses Iowa? And does badly in New Hampshire?
He’ll have the money, but Huckabee’s campaign will have the intangibles of energy and momentum. If Romney’s folks want to play stubborn at that point, they may have only themselves to blame for writing off Huckabee too soon.