Straw Poll: Huckabee sort-of in, Thompson “commited”

Two of the Republican presidential candidates talked about the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll today.  (Here’s the Radio Iowa story on Huckabee and here’s the Radio Iowa story on Tommy Thompson.)

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson said some of his staff had seriously considered the idea of having him withdraw, but Thompson told reporters (during a telephone conference call) that he was steadfast in his commitment to participate.

"I’m curious if you had considered skipping the Straw Poll after Giuliani and McCain got out of it," an AP reporter asked Thompson.

"I reflected on it.  I would say that my staff considered it more than I did.  I never, I never thought about skipping the Straw Poll.  I just thought that it was something that I had committed myself to early on.  It was really the way we were focusing our campaign to see how well we were doing.  It’s a barometer of that.  It’s a test and I never personally, really, thought that we would skip it, but I’ve got to tell you that the three individuals on the call with me who are probably, I think, the three best knowlegable individuals about straw polls and Iowa politics thought that maybe we should skip it, but then they reflected on it and that’s why we hadn’t made an announcement because they wanted to consider all the alternatives and they came up with the same conclusion that I did, that this is the right thing.  In fact, it’s the only thing that we can do and move forward," Thompson said.

Steve Grubbs, former Iowa Republican Party chairman/former state legislator/former US Senate candidate/owner of Victory Enterprises, jumped in at this point and offered his thoughts.

"To participate in the Straw Poll, as anybody who’s been around it knows, is a very expensive exercise and you have to weigh your opportunity costs.  Are we better off spending our money on organizing for the Straw Poll and all the effort and expense that goes into that or are we better off putting our money into direct voter contact?  And I will tell you quite frankly that’s a very close call but ultimately the governor has been committed to the Straw Poll and committed to the Republican Party in Iowa and we believe that it still hold significant upside for any candidate who finishes in the top three and so we intend to go all out and do our best to win this thing," Grubbs said.

Tommy Thompson has said repeatedly that he wants to win or place second in the Straw Poll.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made several campaign stops in Iowa today, including a noon-hour "event" — the grand opening of his campaign headquarters in Des Moines.  It’s at the corner of Sixth and Locust in downtown Des Moines.  For you oldtimers, it’s in the same block where Babe’s restaurant was situated.

A guy from a rival campaign was walking around on the sidewalk out front, wearing an orange jumpsuit with a "jailbird" name tag.  On the back was written "department of collections" with the word "collections" crossed out and the word "corrections" substituted.  The gimmick was an attack on Huckabee’s record on prison sentence commutations and pardons during his time as governor of Arkansas.

About 50 people crowded into the small office suite.  Campaign staff boasted of hot dogs and the trimmings as a luncheon offering.  Eight people wearing bright red "" t-shirts.  As he walked in the room, Huckabee greeted the t-shirt brigade, joking with them about the bright color of their clothing.  "I can find you folks in the dark," Huckabee said.

Bob Vander Plaats, Huckabee’s Iowa campaign chair (and the GOP’s lieutenant governor nominee in 2006, offered a brief introduction, then Huckabee stood behind a tripod on which we broadcast media types had taped our microphones.  You can hear Huckabee’s brief opening comments, then his Q&A with reporters by clicking on the audio link at the bottom of the Radio Iowa story.

In that story, you can read Huckabee’s comments on the Straw Poll. 

"If somebody’s going to be President of the United States, that person ought to have to come out and sit down and talk to people who lead real lives, not sort of the fantasy lives of the people who live in Washington, but the real lives of folks who every day are worried about how they’re going to pay for gasoline to and from work, who are concerned about simply paying rent, who aren’t sure they can take care of their child if he breaks his arm on the playground because they’re not sure what kind of heath care they can access.  Those are issues that every day people not just in Iowa, but across the country face and feel and sometimes there’s a tendency to let the national media — stuck off on the east coast — annoint candidates and decide who you’re going to vote for.  Well, I’ve said for a long time this isn’t ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ with Monty Hall standing in front of three doors, with Carol Merrill pointing and saying ‘You have choice A, B, or C.’ There are more choices and so today we open this headquarters to give the people of Iowa and the people of America a choice they can really count on and when they open the door at this headquarters, they’re going to find that it’s not a zonk and we’re excited to be here."

"Let’s Make a Deal" premiered on December 30, 1963. People who watched the show say a "zonk" was a "prize" that was worthless or hideous.

It will be interested to see what Huckabee decides to wear to the Straw Poll.  If it’s "Let’s Make a Deal"-esque, watch out! 

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.