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Courting Free Media an Art for Huckabee

By Perry Bacon Jr.
DES MOINES -- Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will spend the evening before the Iowa caucuses stopping in small towns in the Hawkeye State. His top rival, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, will be sitting in a chair in California, beside Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."

"It's a great opportunity for me to talk to Iowa as well as the rest of the country," he told reporters yesterday. "My guess is a lot of people in Iowa watch Jay Leno, probably more than would come to a rally and see me, no matter where I would be."

The tactic, which did not help Fred Thompson earlier this year when he skipped a debate in New Hampshire to be on Leno's show, is unprecedented, but it's part of Huckabee's larger strategy: constantly and relentless courting free media. With Romney's strong organizational advantage here, including millions in television ads, Huckabee's campaign has decided their path to victory involves using the candidate's charisma on television as much as possible.

On Monday, while Romney stumped through Iowa, Huckabee's schedule included only one event where he would interact with actual Iowa voters. Instead, he went marathon training and got a haircut with cameras snapping pictures of every moment. He also attended a press conference in a Marriott Hotel in downtown Des Moines where dozens of journalists (including Washington Post staffers) are staying, and appeared on three national morning televisions shows. His schedule yesterday included three speeches in the state's different media markets, including an appearance with Chuck Norris, as well as a meeting with bloggers in that same Marriott, where there were about four journalists and photographers per blogger. And some of the bloggers didn't live in Iowa, either.

While reporters traveling with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton often don't get to ask the candidate questions, Huckabee not only holds a daily press conference, but invites a steady stream of questions. In between stops yesterday, he invited reporters abroad his campaign bus, where he talked about how "ecstatic" he was to have scored the Leno invite.

"I just want to make sure you guys remember....I keep you well fed," he told reporters at at a press conference in Cedar Rapids, as, for the second time in four days, he raved about his "accessibility."

His television performances helped boost him into the lead in Iowa; his campaign strategists say his performances in the GOP debates, along with an appearance on the CNN show of conservative Glenn Beck, helped drive voters to him as former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson failed to connect with conservative voters looking for an alternative in the fall. And Arizona Senator John McCain is also gaining on Romney in another state, New Hampshire, despite having little money, although he is relying on long days of town halls.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 2, 2008; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  Mike Huckabee  
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Comments

Well, if Huckabee wins Iowa tomorrow, will anyone be criticizing his "free" media plays?

Posted by: JakeD | January 2, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

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