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CAMPAIGN '08: WEST COAST TO EAST COAST

Huckabee pares staff in Florida

Campaign fails to meet fundraising goal after South Carolina loss.

January 23, 2008|Louise Roug and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

PENSACOLA, FLA. — On the heels of a crucial loss in the South Carolina Republican primary, Mike Huckabee acknowledged Tuesday that he had cut back his campaign operation in Florida, which holds its primary Tuesday.

At least one person was fired, and other aides quit, according to people with the campaign. Several senior staffers have volunteered to work without pay.

"Right now we're replenishing our coffers," said Bob Wickers, Huckabee's media consultant.

"It's just a bottomless pit in Florida," he added, referring to the high cost of TV ads.

Wickers acknowledged that Huckabee's loss in South Carolina on Saturday had made it more difficult to raise money.

The financial disarray comes a week before the closely fought Republican primary in Florida, a large state that poses logistical problems for any candidate.

The state can't be covered with campaign rallies alone, and a 10-day cycle of TV ads in Florida can cost as much as $2 million. Even with the staff reductions, the campaign can't afford network TV advertising rates and will instead concentrate on cable TV, Wickers said.

Huckabee's campaign announced a goal of raising $10 million before Feb. 5 when 24 states, including California, hold contests.

By Tuesday evening, the campaign had raised only about a quarter of that amount, according to a statement on its website.

Huckabee, whose campaign has always been lean, will have to rely more on free media exposure. On Monday, however, campaign officials said they would no longer arrange travel for journalists covering the former Arkansas governor -- potentially limiting news coverage of the candidate.

"It's a pretty bad signal if you're cutting loose what could be your only lifeline to the mass electorate," said Daniel A. Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida.

Typically, campaigns make travel arrangements for candidates, staff and traveling journalists. News organizations later repay the costs.

Huckabee began a scramble for money the day after his South Carolina loss with a barbecue at the Texas ranch of actor Chuck Norris, followed by two days of fundraising in Georgia and Florida.

Smith said the timing of the cutbacks, coming the same day former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson announced he was dropping out of the race, surprised him.

"Huckabee should be celebrating the news of Thompson's exit today," Smith said. "The bulk of Thompson's supporters are probably going to look favorably at Huckabee."

Chip Saltsman, Huckabee's national campaign manager, wrote on the candidate's campaign website: "Huckabee for President is being transformed into a leaner and more effective operation for the weeks ahead. . . . A campaign that doesn't retool and try to be more effective with each set of new election results, eventually leaves the race (i.e. Fred Thompson). We are retooling because we want to win."--

louise.roug@latimes.com

dan.morain@latimes.com

Times staff writer Michael Finnegan in Miami contributed to this report.

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Republican debate

The Republican presidential candidates will debate at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton on Thursday. The two-hour forum will be broadcast at 6 p.m. PST on MSNBC.

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