Sunday, August 12, 2007

Huckabee's Straw Poll Showing: The Significance

The New Republic has done a fantastic job of detailing the raw significance of Huckabee's remarkable 2nd place showing in yesterday's Iowa Straw Poll -- far better than I can do -- so here's an excerpt. You can read the article in its entirety HERE.

The New Republic

Viva Huckabee!

By Noam Scheiber

8/11/07

Here's when I realized Mike Huckabee might be on the verge of something: Shortly after 1 o'clock, Laura Ingraham, our intrepid emcee, introduced each of the straw poll candidates. Because Romney was speaking immediately after the introductions, and because he'd clearly bused in the most people from around the state--"Team Romney" apparently had one bus for each of Iowa's 99 counties--you expected the Hilton Coliseum audience to be fanatically behind him and ... it clearly was. Thereafter, each candidate was introduced to respectful applause. Finally, Ingraham got to Huckabee, at which point the crowd erupted all over again.

The conventional wisdom about Ames...is that it overwhelmingly favors candidates with strong organizations. Huckabee more or less eviscerated that conventional wisdom today.

Both the man directly ahead of him...and behind him... in the final standings spent enormous resources busing in supporters*. Huckabee spent exactly zero resources busing in supporters and still managed 18 percent of the vote.

The other two campaigns bought hundreds, if not thousands, more straw-poll tickets than the number of votes they received. Huckabee bought around 1800 tickets and received almost 2600 votes. Clearly, Romney and Brownback dropped a lot of cash on people who ended up voting for someone else, and that someone else was probably Huckabee.

What's not clear is whether these voters boarded Romney and Brownback buses intending to vote for the former Arkansas governor all along, or whether they simply came with an open mind--or even intending to vote for Romney or Brownback--before being converted. My hunch is the latter.

[Huckabee's tent] was also far away from the Hilton [voting site]. Nonethess, according to an unofficial tally provided by a rival campign, Huckabee received about 60 percent of his votes--some 1500--in Hilton. It's not hard to imagine a lot of soft Romney and Brownback supporters listening to Huckabee's speech, then walking into the lobby and pulling the lever for him.

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.

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--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 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.

--Noam Scheiber

*Yesterday I reported that Brownback was planning to deploy around 25 buses. It looks like that number was mainly for expectation-setting purposes. The real number was closer to 60.

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