In 1992, when Bill Clinton faced a tough primary challenge in New Hampshire amid accusations of philandering and draft-dodging, a group of Arkansans known as the Arkansas Travelers went up North to support their former governor. Now, as Mike Huckabee prepares for the Iowa caucuses amid favorable press and, until recently, limited scrutiny of his past record, a new Arkansas contingent is planning a campaign trip.
This time, though, the goal is to bring the state's native son to his knees.
Earlier this week, a group of Arkansans went to Iowa for three days of media appearances to lobby against Huckabee. Randy Minton, a former state legislator and chairman of the conservative Eagle Forum, was one of these new Travelers. “I will be going across the state raising awareness [of Huckabee's record],” said Minton before the trip. He cited Huckabee's record of raising taxes and his liberal use of pardons as two issues he planned to discuss. Although Minton declined to say who was behind his group until he made his first media appearance on Wednesday, after the Times went to press, he confirmed that — unlike the all-volunteer Clinton Travelers — the anti-Huckabee effort received outside funding.
The trip is an indication of the problems Huckabee may soon face in Iowa, where a victory is essential for his presidential campaign. As Huckabee has jumped to the front of Iowa polls in recent weeks, there has been an uptick in criticism of his performance as governor. Many of the naysayers are local Republicans who accuse Huckabee of a liberal record, particularly on tax increases.
The national media is starting to take notice. Last week, stories about Huckabee's pardon of rapist Wayne Dumond sparked a wave of negative press toward Huckabee.
Bad vibes also appear to be coming from the broader party grassroots. Last week, ABC News reported that a group called “Iowans for Some Semblance of Christian Decency” was distributing flyers attacking Huckabee for being insufficiently conservative. They disparage his support of scholarships for the children of unauthorized immigrants, his suggestion that God has given him political success, his history of frequent pardons, and his friendliness with Bill Clinton. Similar leaflets appeared in South Carolina, which also hosts an early primary. The Iowa flyers list contact information for Minton and Arkansas Eagle Forum director Betsy Hagan of Little Rock. Hagan and Minton both denied being involved with the group.
While Arkansas Republicans may not be responsible for plastering Iowans' windshields, many of them have concerns about Huckabee's record. Not coincidentally, Huckabee has yet to demonstrate signs of significant traction in his home state. Although his national headquarters are in Little Rock, there are few obvious signs of support for Huckabee around the city in the form of placards and bumper stickers. Nor did Huckabee host a major campaign announcement in Arkansas as Bill Clinton did at the Old State House in 1991.
Huckabee's lack of local visibility can partially be attributed to campaign strategy and a lack of resources. He has been able to sneak up on the Republican front-runners by keeping a low profile. With a budget in only the low seven figures, campaigning in Arkansas is much less of a priority than running in the early primary states. Yet Huckabee hasn't had the type of fiscal support at home that could help dig him out of a fund-raising rut. As of the last quarter, which ended Sept. 30, Arkansas was Huckabee's richest state, but it had netted him just $665,505. Over the same period, Hillary Clinton raised $744,775 here.