Huckabee's Sprint to the Finish
By Perry Bacon Jr.
BURLINGTON, Iowa--For Mike Huckabee, his first event on the day of the Iowa caucuses revealed the challenges to a win here: a lack of strong organization and money.
A day after his aides seemed not to have told him that he would have to cross a picket line to go on Jay Leno's show, his campaign set up an event for him to speak at a Best Western here that includes a casino, even though the former Baptist minister is opposed to casino gambling. When the person introducing him asked how many people in the room had decided to vote for Huckabee, only about half of the crowd of around 200 raised their hands. Huckabee was not yet in the room though, and his speech encouraged many people who had not yet decided to back him to "get your friends and neighbors" to come too.
Candidates like Barack Obama allow undecided voters to ask questions, but Huckabee didn't take time to hear from the audience. The former Arkansas governor has not taken questions at events over the last few days, even though voters here are getting phone calls and mailers from the Mitt Romney campaign with negative information about Huckabee, who does not have the same funding here to spread his message.
"He talks about negative ads, but one of the issues we are concerned about is the letting go of the criminals," said Rich Burlingame, a man who attended the speech but is undecided between Huckabee and John McCain. Romney has attacked Huckabee for the large number of pardons issued during Huckabee's tenure as governor, which included reduced sentences for 11 murderers.
Aides said they are holding short events because they are trying to do as many as possible.
Burlingame said "I know it's hard to do it," but wished Huckabee had left time for questions.
The candidate himself, despite flying across the country and back yesterday, said "I was trying to sleep last night and not doing a great job of it."
"I'm jazzed up and ready to go," he told the crowd to loud applause.
He added, "I know the past few days there's been a lot of negative stuff thrown at us...if you're not catching flak, you're not a real target."
And after spending the last few days lowering expectations here as Romney has narrowed the gap between them, Huckabee sounded confident.
"Iowa's going to be a battleground state...I will be the nominee and I will be back," he declared.
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