- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 21, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa — Eight years ago Mike Huckabee was a superstar in Iowa, drawing so much press attention that it nearly cost him his life — literally.

The crush of reporters and photographers hounding the ex-Arkansas governor on the campaign trail was so thick that when he sat for a shave in a barber shop in Des Moines, he nearly got his throat slit when a female reporter in the throng bumped into the barber’s arm.

“I had a razor in my hand and she bumped into me,” master barber Scott Sales recalled Thursday about that close shave eight years ago. “It was crazy. I had a tiny little shop, and I had 75 people in it.”

These days Mr. Huckabee is waging a much lonelier campaign, with small crowds and no danger of the press mobbing him to death.

The same goes for former Sen. Rick Santorum, who, along with Mr. Huckabee, were the winners of Iowa’s last two GOP caucuses. But so far neither has been able to recapture the magic this time around.

At a campaign stop in the small farming town of Wall Lake, Iowa, Mr. Huckabee urged voters to remember that he’s the same candidate who won in 2008, and he still fits in Iowa like an “old comfortable shoe.”

“I realize that I may be the more familiar shoe in the closet. Sometimes that old shoe is a lot more comfortable than the new one that has to be broken in and you’re not sure it’s ever going to fit,” he told a crowd of about 30 people at a community center.

Indeed, Mr. Huckabee and most of the crowded field have been outshined by the unconventional run of billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who has topped Iowa polls for months and is in a close race with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

The crux of Mr. Huckabee’s pitch was that he is a proven, consistent conservative who never wavered in his pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-military beliefs.

“Ultimately you want a president you trust,” said Mr. Huckabee, who gave up a successful talk show on Fox News to make another run for the White House.

The media coverage of the event consisted of three newspaper reporters and a Fox News producer with a digital camcorder.

Mr. Huckabee is touring the Hawkeye State in a weathered Winnebago, accompanied by a few aides for 150 events scheduled in Iowa this month.

He still boasts the endorsement of action movie and TV star Chuck Norris, but there haven’t been any of the “Chuck and Huck” rallies that thrilled Iowans and gabbed headlines eight years ago.

Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Santorum have been stuck at the back of the pack since the 2016 GOP race got underway. A Real Clear Politics average of recent Iowa polls shows Mr. Santorum in 11th place with 1 percent, behind Mr. Huckabee in ninth place with 3 percent and businesswoman Carly Fiorina in 10th place at 2 percent.

The difference between now and then is much starker for Mr. Huckabee, who topped the polls in the month before the 2008 caucuses.

Mr. Santorum has always run come-from-behind races. But he admits this year is much different than 2012, when he didn’t crack into third place in Iowa polls until a week before the caucuses.

“I don’t think it is the same. My expectations are probably not as high that we can soar to the top. I frankly wasn’t sure we could do that four years ago,” the former Pennsylvania senator told The Washington Times after a town hall-style meeting at a Pizza Ranch restaurant in Rockwell City, a hardscrabble town in northwest Iowa.

“Four years ago we didn’t have the big rah-rah crowds and we won,” he said.

About a dozen potential caucusgoers showed up for the Q&A session with Mr. Santorum in the restaurant’s party room. About as many people showed up for the pizza buffet dinner special but weren’t curious enough to check out the candidate.

His argument for his candidacy is similar to last time: He is running on family values and his experience fighting and winning conservative caucuses in Washington.

The event was covered by four reporters: two from local newspapers, one from the French newspaper Le Monde and one from The Times.

By the time the event ended, the restaurant had cleared out and Mr. Santorum had a pizza buffet dinner with three of his supporters from the town hall meeting.

“Ten to 12 is a pretty decent crowd as far as I’m concerned. It’s really sort of the norm,” he said, adding that he gets press coverage and picks up supporters at every stop.

“That’s a good day for me. I know it is different than the big rallies and all those things and, you know, the road show, but this is what I did four years ago, and that hard work paid off,” he said.

In the final days before the 2012 caucus, more than 100 people filled a Pizza Ranch party room to see Mr. Santorum, with the overflow crowd watching the event aired live on TVs throughout the restaurant.

Back then the restaurant manager named the chicken salad “Santorum Salad.”

This year there were no Santorum-themed offerings on the buffet and the Pizza Ranch manager said she was a Trump supporter.

Eight years ago, Mr. Santorum toured the state in a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup dubbed the “Chuck Truck” because campaign adviser Chuck Laudner, a veteran GOP operative in Iowa, was at the wheel.

This year, Mr. Santorum is riding in a GMC Yukon SUV and Mr. Laudner is working for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Santorum also had the celebrity endorsement in the 2012 race of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar from the reality TV show “19 and Counting,” which centered on their devoutly Christian family and their many children.

The Duggars switched to Mr. Huckabee this year, though their endorsement has been a mixed blessing at best.

TLC canceled the show in July after son Josh Duggar admitted fondling several minor girls, including some of his sisters, beginning at age 14. Sexual scandal has since followed Mr. Duggar, including revelations that he had an account on cheating website Ashley Madison and was unfaithful to his wife.

A woman confronted Mr. Huckabee at a recent town hall in Iowa, accusing him of supporting child abuse.

“When the Duggars came out, and their son had molested their child, you more or less said that you felt sorry for the parents. The parents let it continue for over two years,” the woman said in a video obtained by Radar.

“You don’t know, ma’am. I’m sorry, but I’m going to stop you,” Mr. Huckabee interrupts. “You’re accusing me of supporting child abuse and I’m going to [refute] you on that because that hurts my feelings, and is absolutely — let me tell you something: You have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t know that family, and I do. You don’t know them. I’ve never supported child abuse.”

Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Santorum both continue to have die-hard fans, and they are working to find them in every corner of the state. They are the only two Republican candidates to visit Wall Lake this year.

“I can’t believe he’s not at the top,” Kay Montano, 71, a retired schoolteacher in Wall Lake, said after the Huckabee town hall. “I loved to watch him on television.”

At the Pizza Ranch in nearby Rockwell City, farmer Francis “Franco” Owens said he caucused for Mr. Santorum last time and will do so again.

“He’s the genuine article. He’s a conservative and he hasn’t changed,” said Mr. Owens. “I don’t know if he’ll pull off the same stunning upset, but I’m a Christian, and if I was to pick someone who I thought could win but didn’t uphold my values, what would I be voting for?”

Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Santorum both said that after the caucuses they plan to skip the New Hampshire primary and begin campaigning for the third nominating contest in South Carolina.

Neither was ready to be counted out in Iowa, and both held out hope for a surprise finish when Iowans gather at schools, churches and community centers to caucus in 11 days.

“If I had believed everything the polls said, I would certainly have pulled out in 2008 before the election; Rick Santorum would have pulled out four years ago; Jimmy Carter would have pulled out 40 years ago; Barack Obama wouldn’t have stayed in the race eight years ago,” Mr. Huckabee said.

He added, “Usually, the people who win the Iowa caucus are not the ones that the folks in the well-lit rooms in New York and Washington are talking about. It’s the guy who ends up winning that they scratch their head about and say, ‘How did that happen?’”

Mr. Santorum said he’s taking the race one contest at a time.

“One of the things I learned four years ago is you go forward as long as you have a viable path to get there and the resources to get you there,” he said. “When you reach a point you can’t, you don’t. And right now nobody’s voted yet, so we’ll wait and see.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide