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Am I Too Dismissive Of Huckabee?

From somewhere in South Carolina, Eve raises a few questions about last night's sure-to-be-wrong-in-retrospect Romney post. Eve says:

[W]hen you write that "with his war chest, Romney should be able to sneak into the top two in Florida," I'm not sure that's right—Romney's war chest didn't get him anywhere near the top two here. And I wonder if you underestimate Huckabee's resilience going forward to February 5. Huckabee leads Romney in national polls, and it's not a Hillary-esque name-recognition thing, since Huckabee has no more claim to name recognition than Romney does. What fuels Huck's national numbers? His brilliant manipulation of free media, from Leno to Joe Scarborough to the negative-ad stunt we all panned (and thereby hyped) in Iowa.

Every morning, I suspect a number of us wake up and think to ourselves, "Is today the day the presidential candidate who fried squirrels in a popcorn popper's fifteen minutes are up?" But Huckabee is no rube. As I've tracked him, I've been impressed with his political skills – not just as a communicator but as a strategist. ...

Eve then lays out an example of Huckabee's super-shrewd live-off-the-land strategy, which I highly recommend you read. (In fact, I highly recommend all her dispatches from South Carolina--she's doing terrific work down there.)

Let me take her questions in order:

1.) It's true that Romney's deep pockets didn't get him far in South Carolina. But I think he was always facing a low-ish ceiling there thanks to his Massachusetts and Mormon baggage. Florida is not only less hostile in these respects, but, owing to its size and its astonishing number of major (read: very expensive) media markets (more than half-a-dozen), it really favors a candidate with money. There's just no way you can meet-and-greet and free-media your way into contention there. You couldn't do it if you had the better part of a year to work the state, as Huckabee did in Iowa and, arguably, South Carolina. But you certainly can't do it in just ten days, which is what the GOP candidates will have after South Carolina.

2.) This is related to the previous point. There's no doubt Huckabee has a real base of support nationally. But, after South Carolina, his money problems become an increasing liability. Florida is bad enough. But the 20-something states that vote on February 5 will be to Florida what Florida is to South Carolina. There's just no way to gin up enough free media and attend enough ribbon-cuttings to affect the race. I think Huckabee will do fine as long as there are three or more people in the race, because evangelicals will remain a loyal bloc for him. But, should he somehow make it one-on-one with anyone, his money problems (if not the establishment's disdain for him) will almost certainly spell his doom.

If you're still unpersuaded, just consider Michigan--a place where Huckabee's populist message should have resonated, and which lots of conservative evangelicals call home. Huckabee finished a distant third there because he'd spent almost no time in the state and didn't have money to get his message out.

P.S. While I'm on the subject of Michigan--let me disagree with those who cite it as proof that Huckabee can't transcend his evangelical base. It's true that Huckabee didn't attract many Michiganders who weren't social conservatives. But you can't blame that on the inherent limitations of Huckabee's message, or of his personal appeal (both of which were assets, I think). It was largely a function of money. Huckabee probably could have expanded his base if he'd advertised heavily and set up a ground organization. He didn't do these things because he never raised the cash.

--Noam Scheiber