Bad Blood at Huckabee and Paul

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(l. to r.): Paul Sancya / AP; Mark Wilson / Meet the Press / AP

Republican presidential hopefuls Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee

The corner of Sixth and Locust is probably the tensest spot in downtown Des Moines. And the frostiness has little to do with the subfreezing Midwestern winter and everything to do with presidential politics. For housed alongside each other on the bottom floor of a 73-year-old office building at 405 Sixth Avenue — and sharing the bathrooms in the basement— are the Iowa headquarters of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

Both Republican candidates — one the most socially conservative in the race; the other, a Libertarian — moved in around the same time last summer.

Wandering across the hall from one office to the other on a weekend afternoon, I could sense the different metabolisms of the two operations. The Huckabee headquarters, which used to be a United Airlines ticket office, is populated mostly by polite young women with southern accents who rushed to greet me at the door and addressed me as "ma'am." The Paul office is an edgier place, an all-male operation by appearances, and much bigger. Indeed, thanks to the millions that have poured in over the Internet, it has expanded to quadruple its original size, practically swallowing Huckabee's headquarters — though Huckabee has snagged some additional space a few floors above the storefront. "We've got them surrounded," says Paul's Iowa communications director, John Zambenini.

The two insurgent operations generally try to have as little to do with each other as possible. Paul's people go in and out on Sixth; Huckabee's, on Locust. "I don't think we've exchanged many words at all," says Huckabee's Iowa campaign manager, Eric Woolson. You might have thought the holidays would have brought some occasion for communal cheer, or at least an exchange of cookies. "You're looking for the "Silent Night" 1914 story, with the Germans and the British playing soccer?" Zambenini told me when I suggested as much. "Nope."

That much was clear on New Year's Eve. After Huckabee was forced to abruptly end his press conference at which he announced that he would not air a negative ad attacking Mitt Romney but showed it to the assembled media, he left the room in the Des Moines Marriott to do a drop-by visit of his campaign headquarters across the street. He was met there by a gaggle of Paul supporters and peace protesters who surrounded the office and heckled the candidate for his support for the war in Iraq. MSNBC reported that three were arrested.

It hasn't helped matters that earlier this month the Paul campaign paid for two former Republican legislators from Huckabee's home state of Arkansas to come to Iowa and give radio interviews attacking his record on such issues as taxes and immigration. No wonder the closest thing to a real overture between the two campaigns may be have been the day recently when a Huckabee worker came across the hall and asked whether anyone from Team Paul wanted to go shooting. "It didn't work out," says Zambenini, who adds that they did appreciate the invitation.

Then again, there are times when they can't help but run into each other. Just about everyone from both offices eats lunch at Coney Island, a second-floor diner known for its pork loin. And there's the men's room, of course. A Paul volunteer recently ran into Huckabee himself there, and found him to be cordial. But there is some quiet grumbling from Huckabee's team about Paul's people using up all the paper towels. When told about the dispute, a top strategist for a rival G.O.P. campaign said of the scruffy Paul forces: "They probably bathe in there."

And there was one other violation of the generally accepted protocol of peaceful if uneasy coexistence — possibly as a consequence of the recent influx of 266 student volunteers for Paul from 39 states, in what the campaign calls "Ron Paul's Christmas Vacation." As can happen with students on break, they sometimes go overboard in their exuberance. One of them came into the Huckabee offices the other day and started haranguing a worker there about Huckabee's support for a national sales tax. He was asked to leave.

"We've got our work to do," Woolson told the interloper. "You've got your work to do."