Hill Support for Huckabee Lags

Posted December 4, 2007 at 6:30pm

Republican Mike Huckabee’s surging presidential campaign in Iowa has yet to translate into key support in Washington, D.C., but with Members of Congress returning this week following the Thanksgiving recess, backers of the former Arkansas governor said that may soon change.

Thus far, Huckabee has few public supporters on Capitol Hill and K Street, as evidenced by his lackluster fundraising until recently.

But Huckabee’s supporters believe he is poised to capitalize financially on the buzz he has generated by his meteoric rise in Iowa polls.

In just two days back in Washington, Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said he already had fielded requests from curious colleagues to “tell me about your governor” — and has been more than happy to answer their questions.

“I think the hesitation has been ‘Well, if I support Gov. Huckabee I’m wasting my vote,’” Boozman said in an interview Tuesday. But that perception is changing, Boozman said, based on recent polls that show Huckabee to be in the hunt in Iowa, one month removed from the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Huckabee also is moving up in national polls among Republican voters at the expense of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has long been the national GOP frontrunner.

Boozman, the only Republican in the Arkansas delegation, is one of two lawmakers to endorse Huckabee. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is the other.

Boozman has helped arrange meetings between Huckabee and Members over the past several months, but he said it will be tough to continue those face-to-face introductions during the final campaign frenzy. Boozman said he plans to talk to Young about setting up some D.C. fundraising events, acknowledging Huckabee’s weakness when it comes to finances and infrastructure.

“We need to work on the fundraising,” Boozman said. “The other thing that he’ll need is some more national organization.”

Huckabee raised a little more than $1 million in the third quarter of the year, bringing his total raised for the campaign to $2.3 million as of Sept. 30. In contrast, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) had raised $62.8 million through the end of September, $17.3 million of which came from his own pocket. Romney has spent heavily in Iowa — banking on the strategy that a win there would catapult him into New Hampshire and South Carolina — and he has enjoyed a solid lead in the polls there until Huckabee’s recent movement.

One Huckabee supporter in Washington said Huckabee’s Iowa surge had made it easier to make the case for the Baptist minister’s electability. The supporter said there was no doubt that interest in Huckabee’s campaign had picked up in recent weeks.

“I’m getting a lot more returned calls and a lot more calls from people who want to volunteer,” said the supporter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not an authorized spokesman for the campaign.

People are more willing to donate to Huckabee, too.

“They like to believe they’re writing checks to a winner,” he said.

The supporter also has fielded calls from Capitol Hill aides interested in joining Huckabee’s policy staff — though no such thing currently exists within his shoestring campaign structure.

“They just assume that someone who’s doing so well in Iowa must have a big infrastructure,” the supporter said.

Two of Huckabee’s top strategists have close ties to Capitol Hill.

His campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, was a former political adviser to then-Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Communications consultant Kristen Fedewa is a former communications director at the Republican Governors Association and former press operative at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

On K Street, Huckabee has a small number of supporters. They include Karen Johnson of Valente & Associates, Loren Monroe of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, ex-Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) of Dickstein Shapiro and ex-Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) of Venable LLC. The Hutchinsons have butted heads with Huckabee over the years — mostly over support for their desired candidates back home — but Huckabee supported Asa Hutchinson’s failed bid for Arkansas governor in 2006, and the two families appear to have set aside their differences for now.

Tim Hutchinson’s ex-wife, Arkansas state Rep. Donna Hutchinson (R), is supporting Romney.

Meanwhile, Boozman said he believes Huckabee also could be an attractive pick for the No. 2 slot on the Republican ticket. The Congressman’s brother, Fay, was director of the Arkansas Department of Health and secretary of the Arkansas State Board of Health during Huckabee’s tenure as governor.

“I do think that the governor has a good chance of moving forward,” Boozman said. “He also has an excellent chance to position himself as a vice presidential candidate. Some of the other candidates really need a Gov. Huckabee to balance themselves out.”