Rollins: Huckabee Can Fill Reagan's Shoes
CONCORD, N.H. -- Mike Huckabee's low-budget, fast-moving campaign brought on some needed organizational muscle today in the form of Ed Rollins, the veteran political strategist for candidates including Ronald Reagan -- to whom he today compared his new client for his ability to communicate and connect with voters.
"Governor Huckabee has probably inspired me as much as Ronald Reagan did," Rollins said after being introduced by Huckabee at a press conference here. "I've looked a long time to find a candidate like that...A lot of people walk around talking about the Reagan days and the next Reagan. I was with the old Reagan and I can promise you that this man comes as close as anyone to filling those shoes."
Huckabee and Rollins both took pains to reassure the campaign's supporters that adding a heavyweight like Rollins to the team did not represent a betrayal of the grass-roots ethos that has helped Huckabee surge into the first tier of Republican contenders with far less money than his rivals. "This is not to say that we're not extremely grateful for the people who've gotten us here so far," said Huckabee. The campaign, added Rollins, is trying to build a national organization "so that once this momentum moves forward we won't be sunk by a lack of infrastructure."
Rollins said the campaign was definitely going to compete in the New Hampshire primary, despite faring much worse in the polls here than in Iowa, which has a far larger contingent of socially conservative voters, a natural target for Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher. Rollins said New Hampshire nonetheless held potential for Huckabee because he does so well at the kind of retail politicking that the primary requires. "We're going to be full bore here," he said.
Rollins also played down the campaign's financial disadvantage, saying that it was benefiting greatly from the free media coverage of Huckabee's surge and that none of the other GOP candidates have raised anywhere near as much money as they had expected to, not counting the self-funding of Mitt Romney, who Rollins said "was born rich, and became richer."
The pairing of Huckabee and Rollins makes for somewhat of an odd couple, between an evangelical, small-state governor famous for his dramatic weight loss and a rotund, gruff strategist well-versed in political street-fighting (in 1994, Rollins had to apologize after claiming he had helped Christie Todd Whitman win her race for New Jersey governor by paying off African-American ministers to suppress the black vote.)
Rollins acknowledged the unlikely pairing. "It's a unique campaign for me," he quipped. "There's no donuts and no booze."
Injecting another twist to the scene was the presence of TV strongman Chuck Norris, who is campaigning with Huckabee in New Hampshire. Asked at the event's close what his favorite Chuck Norris joke was, the bearded tough guy didn't hesitate: "They wanted to put Chuck Norris on Mt. Rushmore, but the granite wasn't tough enough for his beard."
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