Sarah Huckabee is desperately looking for a volunteer. It's a frigid Des Moines Sunday afternoon and the daughter of the upstart Republican presidential candidate is holding court in her new corner office above the campaign's Iowa headquarters. Her dad, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, may suddenly be a front-runner in Iowa, and in South Carolina as well, but his rising profile has its own complications. Today she is dealing with a shortage of drivers for his motorcade on Tuesday because, lo and behold, they now need two media vans.
"So our caravan is growing but our driver's list isn't keeping pace and the bus doesn't get here until the 18th," Sarah Huckabee is musing out loud when a young staffer pipes up that he's bringing along a new volunteer from Arkansas named Jared. Huckabee pounces. "Oooh, I need him! Do you know him? What's his last name? Jared's our ticket. I just hope he's old enough to drive."
At 25, Huckabee is no dilettante trying to ride Daddy's coattails. After leaving her job as a regional liaison with the Education Department in Washington, Huckabee has spent the past year directing field operations for her father's campaign. Six weeks ago, overcoming her hatred of the cold, she moved to Des Moines to be her Dad's eyes and ears on the ground in the state that will make or break his presidential hopes. "There is a degree of trust between them that is very special. It's special for family and special in a political adviser and in her he has both," said Eric Woolson, who runs the Huckabee campaign in Iowa.
Sarah who has two older brothers, one of whom is also working full-time for the campaign thought about going to law school after graduating from her father's alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. Instead, she switched gears, heading to Washington and the Department of Education; along the way she has worked on two of her Dad's gubernatorial campaigns, a local race in Oregon and President Bush's reelection campaign in Ohio. She inherited the organizational talents of her mother, Janet (who until recently worked for the Red Cross in Little Rock), and the passion for politics of her Dad, and no small amount of his famous charm. Asked about boyfriends, she fends off the question with a coy smile: "You're not going to put that in your story, are you?"
For Sarah, being the candidate's daughter is both a blessing and a curse. When people criticize her Dad she sometimes wants "to walk right over and punch them, but obviously I can't do that." Which has made the last two weeks a trying exercise in self-restraint. As the most visible and constant face of the campaign in Iowa, which is getting growing scrutiny as its poll numbers soar, Sarah is often the one who must field the tough questions. "And we welcome that," Sarah says. "We're happy to have supporters and even our non-supporters come and ask us those questions so that we can answer them and give them both sides of the story."
Last Thursday, on a conference call with 70 county chairmen, a few people raised concerns about a recent spate of stories concerning a convicted rapist who, after Huckabee allegedly pressured the parole board on his behalf, was paroled and went on to rape and kill at least one other woman. Sarah explained her frustrations to those on the call. "I don't think it's hurting a lot of our support because one of the biggest misconceptions is that people think that governors actually have the ability to parole people and they don't. If anything the only action my father took was denying Wayne DuMond clemency and he did that four times, but that's never the story that's written."
When asked about a recent AP story citing a 1992 questionnaire in which Huckabee seemed to advocate quarantining AIDS patients and called homosexuality a sin, Sarah nearly smiles. "I don't think it hurts us right now." She knows that more than 40% of Republican caucus-goers in Iowa are Evangelical Christians and, in part, it's thanks to their strong support that Huckabee is surging. Nearly half of the 400 likely Republican caucus-goers interviewed in a Mason Dixon poll earlier this month said they believe the ordained reverend's values were in line with their own, compared to 17% who felt the same about former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and 8% for former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. Overall Huckabee led the poll 32% to Romney's 20% an astonishing reversal of fortune from this summer, when Huckabee had two staffers in the entire state and had barely raised $2 million. Romney, meanwhile, has spent more than $7 million of his $63 million war chest building a massive support system in Iowa.
"Romney has a much more extensive organization in terms of manpower," said Steve Scheffler, head of the Iowa Christian Alliance, who is not endorsing a candidate this cycle. "It's more of a challenge for Huckabee, but based on the makeup of the constituents it's certainly possible for him to win the Iowa caucuses. If I were a betting man today I'd say it's possible that it's 50-50 either one could win."
Huckabee's remarks about AIDS and gays won't hurt him in Iowa, Scheffler contended. "Homosexuality is a sin. I'm in full agreement with him. Most people who are supporting Huckabee or any candidate would concur with that statement and would hope their candidates do, too. It doesn't mean you discriminate, it just doesn't mean you'd condone a sinful lifestyle."
The surge in support has kept Sarah busy lately working up to 90 hours a week, running her father's schedule and event briefings not only in Iowa but in South Carolina and New Hampshire; in addition, she oversees outreach and acts as her Dad's surrogate in Iowa. Interest in becoming one of Huckabee's precinct captains the folks that will stand up in the 1,784 Iowa caucuses and make Huckabee's case has risen 250% since Nov. 29. And a campaign that raised only $2.3 million from January to October has since raised $1.1 million online in October, $2.2 million in November and more than $600,000 so far in December. and that doesn't count traditional fundraising. All that money is going to new ads Huckabee's third and fourth TV spots are now airing in Iowa and radio ads began this week and the first campaign buses for Huckabee and the press, which arrive in time for a two-week bus tour (with a break for Christmas) before the caucuses. Huckabee now has two campaign offices in Iowa, having opened a second one in Waterloo, and 14 paid staff, which rivals Romney's campaign.
The campaign is "not shoestring any more," Woolson said. "It's more. We get more bang for our bucks. Which in a Republican contest is a selling point. When one guy is spending a lot of money and another is spending relatively little and the results are the same, that's saying something."
It may be one step up from shoestring, but Sarah high-heeled brown boots now thrown off, lying next to stuffed Saint Bernard animal slippers (a not-so-kidding gift from her sister-in-law to ward off the cold) is still looking for that driver. "I need a body. I need a warm, functioning living, breathing human being and I don't want to pull somebody from here. It's empty."