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Huckabee gains new perspective

December 05, 2007|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee eyed the hundreds of supporters spilling out of his newly expanded Iowa headquarters, thronging him for autographs, grabbing campaign signs and volunteering for his cause before Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The sight was quite a contrast to his summer visits to pizzerias around the state, when the former Arkansas governor said he was "thrilled" if 25 people showed up.

"I've been at the bottom and I've been at the top," he said late Tuesday evening. "It's more fun to be at the top."

Huckabee's campaign, for months short on staff and money, was blazing with energy throughout a two-day Iowa swing. It was fueled by recent polls showing Republican voters favoring him over all other GOP contenders in the state, and running close behind or neck-and-neck nationally with former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

In recent days Huckabee supporters packed events, dozens of reporters trailed his every move, and his website repeatedly crashed because of heavy viewing. He appeared on national shows such as CBS' "The Early Show" and ABC News' "Nightline."

His campaign headquarters in downtown Des Moines is expanding into another office in the same building. The new space is three times bigger to accommodate the surging crew of volunteers.

"It has been crazy, just so busy," said staffer Aubrie Johnson.

Huckabee seemed to relish the newfound attention.

"We have lot of press people here, and I hope it doesn't bother you," he told a gathering at a financial services firm. "Frankly, it sure doesn't bother me. It's kind of nice to see these guys getting interested after 11 months on the road."

Huckabee's events also drew voters such as John Stilley of Newton, Iowa, who admires Huckabee's socially conservative views but previously declined to support him because of weak early poll numbers. (Throughout the spring and the summer, Huckabee had single-digit support in the polls.)

"Now that he's really getting up there, I can really get behind him. It seems like Christians are waking up and seeing the other two front-runners don't have the values that we have," said Stilley, a 53-year-old retiree, referring to Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

Huckabee's growing support among evangelical Christians fueled his rise in the polls, according to Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Christian Alliance and an undecided voter.

Those people make up about 40% of the state's Republican voters, and Huckabee is heavily courting them.

On Tuesday, standing in front of more than 60 pastors supporting him, Huckabee announced the endorsements of Tim LaHaye, the author of the best-selling apocalyptic "Left Behind" series, and wife Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women for America.

"He's the most electable candidate who genuinely shares our commitment to the values . . . upon which this country was founded," Tim LaHaye said.

If Huckabee does well in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, the crucial question is whether he can carry the momentum into the other early contests.

Huckabee said that he was expanding his campaign operations in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida and that he remained confident his volunteer staff and its commitment would help him pull through.

"Where we don't have offices and paid staff, we have something even better," he said. "We've got an army of ordinary people who are out there not because someone's paying them to love me. We have people out there working hard because they believe in what I stand for."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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