Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Huckabee's Evened Odds

It doesn't take much to remember why Mike Huckabee surged in the polls and has stayed on top in Iowa.

The former Arkansas governor had an announced crowd of over 2,000 eating out of his hand at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines tonight. It was one of the largest crowd I've personally seen for a single candidate in Iowa, and I wonder if it was the largest for any of the Republicans.

Chuck Norris on the marquee drew them in too, but the crowd cheered loud for Huck as he weaved humor, storytelling, and crowd-pleasing rhetoric to great effect in a speech given without notes.

Huckabee made the requisite pitch to go out and caucus, and then had advice on how to handle people planning to caucus for somebody else.

"Shovel your snow in their driveway. Let the air out of their tires. Disconnect their battery cables," he said, before predicting that part of his speech might be quoted once or twice by the media.

For some reason, Huckabee decided to go on before Norris, whose success in acting is clearly not the result of extemporaneous speaking. Then for the finale, Huck's wife, Janet made a few remarks (example: "I can't wait to be your First Lady because I think that would be too cool!") before bringing her husband back on stage to play a few numbers.

He called MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, noted for playing guitar in his own band, on stage to help the band through "Sweet Home Alabama," "Twist and Shout," and "Roll Over Beethoven."

It was a far cry from yesterday's narrative, when Huckabee's press conference was considered an instantly classic gaffe by much of the media. Though the criticism was a bit overblown, the affair was amateur hour, and perhaps even devious in trying to get the media to play his unaired negative ad while taking the high ground of not airing it.

What we don't know is whether many of his supporters care about such things. Charismatic populists are often forgiven much, but it's hard to withstand weeks of negative ads without running your own.

I wrote earlier about Huckabee's spotty organization. The campaign upped their game tonight, with lots of volunteers passing out registration cards and offering caucus locations. There's a lot more to a good organization than that, but it's something.

The big something will be whether all these people show up on caucus night, though. As with the Democratic race, nobody really knows, including the campaigns.

* - Photo: Huckabee and Scarborough rock out to "Sweet Home Alabama" while, presumably, someone with a lighter yells, "Free Bird, dude!"

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