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Huckabee shows how to run campaign on a shoestring

Hank Hayes • Feb 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee may not win the GOP presidential nomination, but he could easily write a book about his campaign.

The book could be called: “How To Run a Presidential Primary Race on $10 Million or Less.”

It’s a race that continues to be run on a shoestring, but it’s getting results.

Huckabee’s narrow Tennessee victory on Super Tuesday over GOP front-runners John McCain and Mitt Romney might have happened because Huckabee campaigned heavily in Chattanooga and Northeast Tennessee on Monday. Huckabee took both Sullivan and Washington counties, the largest bloc of GOP voters in Northeast Tennessee.

McCain and Romney’s campaigns instead pumped pre-recorded “robo calls” into the phone lines of Northeast Tennessee homes. Neither candidate visited the region viewed as a GOP stronghold.

Last May, when Huckabee came to speak at the Sullivan County GOP Reagan Day Dinner, he didn’t have a Blackberry-toting army of people with him. Huckabee had a two-person entourage — Campaign Manager John “Chip” Saltsman and his daughter, Sarah, who has served as his campaign’s national field director.

Back then, Huckabee railed against the national media for not taking his campaign seriously and examining his performance based on a few hundred thousand dollars in his campaign account.

He also told Sullivan County Republicans that his own political party hasn’t been acting very conservative.

“People say if our party is going to win, we need to be a little bit more liberal than we’ve been. No. If our party is going to win, we need to be a whole lot more conservative than we have been acting like in the last couple of years,” Huckabee said at the Reagan Day Dinner.

Huckabee raised about $9 million in 2007, but in the last three months of the year he collected $6.6 million just before going on to win Iowa’s GOP caucus. At the end of 2007, he reported having less than $2 million cash on hand, according to the campaign finance tracking organization Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

In contrast, CRP said Romney ended 2007 with $35.4 million of his $88.5 million fund-raising total coming from his own pocket.

Huckabee is quick to point out that while he’s third in the GOP nomination race, he’s attracting more voters while spending less.

His campaign money, meanwhile, apparently continues to come in on a just-in-time basis. Saltsman said the campaign attracted 4,000 new donors last week and raised $250,000 last Friday.

Huckabee has also found that his base of social conservatives will work for nothing.

“We’re going into some of these contests in a lot better position than Mitt Romney is,” Huckabee told reporters after his Northeast Tennessee rally on Monday. “It’s happened because of people like you saw in this crowd, many of whom buy their own (Huckabee) shirts and hats and yard signs. ... They’re not paid consultants. They’re doing it because they love their country.”

Tennessee Right to Life (TRL), the anti-abortion group that endorsed Huckabee, plans to help him in neighboring Virginia, which holds its presidential primary next Tuesday.

“The work, prayers and votes of grass-roots pro-life supporters made the difference ... in a race that was supposedly already decided against us,” said TRL President Brian Harris of Huckabee’s Tennessee win.

Tennessee’s GOP vote had been expected to go toward former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, but he dropped out two weeks before Super Tuesday. Huckabee complained that the national media “didn’t take notice” of his campaign until Thompson exited the race.

Huckabee’s complaints about the media continued last Monday, while he also stressed that his opponents were slow to pick up on front-burner issues like talking about a sluggish national economy.

“Whether it’s milk, eggs, bread or whatever it is, it’s costing more, but everybody also understands their paycheck hasn’t gone up as much as prices have,” Huckabee said at Monday’s rally. “For most folks who are living paycheck to paycheck that means the economy isn’t doing so well. (Romney and McCain) laughed at me. ... Now they are saying the same thing.”

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