Huckabee Pays Price For Yanking Attack Ad (2024)


By David Miller

/ The Politico

This story was written by Jonathan Martin.

Mike Huckabee's last-minute decision to pull the plug on an attack ad against Mitt Romney has been the talk of Iowa in recent days.

But it turns out there is more to the story than Huckabee explained at his now-famous, had-to-see-it-to-believe it news conference Monday. Politico has learned that his campaign burned about $150,000 in scarce campaign cash on TV footage, radio spots and mail pieces that his strategists wanted to use -before the candidate decided he didn't.

This figure is considerably larger than the $30,000 cost of the single ad Huckabee cited at the news conference, where he drew mocking laughter from reporters by righteously announcing that he had decided to "do the right thing" by staying positive- even while playing the negative spot for the assembled group.

Interviews with Republican sources portrays a chaotic decision-making process inside the Huckabee campaign. Campaign aides urgently wanted to strike back at Romney and the candidate tentatively agreed. Minutes before facing the press, however, Huckabee stunned his own team by telling them he had changed his mind.

The former Arkansas governor's pang of conscience came at a hefty cost.

Besides the commercial that Huckabee shared with reporters, there was an arsenal of additional paid media at the ready. There was more expensively produced TV footage filmed in anticipation of subsequent ads, a tough 60-second radio commercial ready to go and thousands of pamphlets hammering Romney on abortion just moments from being dropped.

"We had that teed up and ready to pull," campaign manager Chip Saltsman said in an interview Tuesday, describing what was originally planned as a multipronged attack. "The mail was actually in the truck headed to the post office."

Campaign Chairman Ed Rollins was philosophical about the about-face.

"You got to do what the candidate wants to do, what he's comfortable with," the veteran GOP consultant responded, when asked why an underfunded campaign would burn through so much money on material that won't see daylight. "Once he said, 'I'm not comfortable with this, this is not the way I want it,' there was no discussion. It was his decision and I respect it."

"The radio was even tougher [than the previewed TV ad] and the mail was tough," Rollins added. The mailer went after Romney for his changed views on abortion, Rollins said, and the radio ad "was 60 seconds of what the TV was."

Despite a spike in fundraising in recent weeks courtesy of his surge in the polls, Huckabee is still running a bare-bones campaign with little of the organization and infrastructure that top candidates in both parties enjoy. He will report ending the quarter with about $2 million in the bank, so the loss is not insignificant.

"The governor made the decision to pull back everything we had- probably cost the campaign $150,000," Saltsman said flatly. "But I think that pales in comparison to what the governor did, which was to say 'no negatives.' I think that's historical."

Both Saltsman and Rollins, while sounding stoical about the wasted cash, sought to highlight the positive reaction from his candidate's decision.

We've got a lot of people at events [Tuesday] that are coming up to him and saying, 'Thank you for doing this,'" Saltsman said after a day spent flying between campaign stops in the western and eastern part of the state. And, he said, scores of Iowans have e-mailed campaign aides and state Chairman Bob Vander Plaats to praise Huckabee for his decision.

"At the end of the day, it's a one-day blip, plus or minus," Rollins argued. "It has not affected our organization. Our people are very happy that he made that choice."

Speaking from the second floor of the campaign's downtown headquarters, where phone bankers were squeezed all around, Rollins said, "everybody is coming in here and saying, 'Thank you, governor, for not being negative.'"

Still, Rollins, in an earlier chat with a group of reporters camped outside a Huckabee event Tuesday night at the Marriott hotel here, confessed: "Would we have rather have not had yesterday? You betcha."

And Rollins twice declined to say whether he agreed with his candidate's decision.

If a campaign "gets in front of a candidate where a candidate is not comfortable with the strategy, they're not going to do well," Rollins said. "This is a guy who has his own message, doesn't have speech writers, he writes his own scripts. He knows who he is. And it's got him here."

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On the skywalk above the frigid Des Moines streets, Rollins made clear that while he didn't enjoy the skeptical national coverage the press conference drew, he didn't think it was having much local impact.

"The only downside is if it affected poll numbers, and nothing's affected poll numbers," he said. "So do I care that you guys are out there saying sh---y things about me? Absolutely not. Do I care about something that affects my candidate? Yeah."

But it's hard to gauge the impact of Huckabee's decision to pull the ad and the largely derisive coverage of the Monday news conference. Many Iowans didn't learn of the decision until reading their morning newspapers Tuesday, so polling would not be indicative.

One thing for certain, however, is that the loss of precious resources won't help a campaign that, unlike GOP rival Mitt Romney, can't tap into the candidate's own bank account.

Although asimilar amount could easily be raised and surpassed should Huckabee win here Thursday, the depletion could adversely affect him should he come in second and seek to mount an aggressive campaign in New Hampshire and beyond.

Huckabee Pays Price For Yanking Attack Ad (2024)
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