(Urbandale, IA) — Mike Huckabee may be feeling like a zombie, but he’s still got some fight left in him.
At least that was the message from the former Arkansas Governor during a meeting with supporters Saturday morning at his campaign headquarters in Urbandale, Iowa.
Speaking to about 35 volunteers as they ate Krispy Kreme donuts and sipped coffee, Huckabee began the day with a story, with his three-year-old granddaughter clinging to his side in an oversized campaign T-shirt.
“Thursday night we were up very late because we had a lot of late interviews after the debate and then the veterans rally, and got about three hours of sleep yesterday,” he said. “But we had appearances all day long, and by the end of the day the three guys traveling with me we were all like zombies by about 5 o clock. … By the time we started wrapping things up, it was truly we were thinking we should inject high-octane coffee in our veins. And it was the night that we had committed that we would keep our granddaughter Scarlett. So we took her to dinner late last night and then we took her home, thinking that she was as tired as we were. Wrong.”
The crowd chuckled and Huckabee wound up for his punchline: “Finally, she was sleepy,” he said. “And by then, we were dead.”
Huckabee told the story with a smile, but the undead metaphor is one that hits a little close to home for his struggling campaign. Eight years ago Huckabee won the Iowa caucus with 34.4% of the vote; today, the RealClearPolitics poll average has him at 2.6%.
But exhausted as he is, Huckabee maintains a relentless optimism about his prospects Monday night, at least in front of volunteers and members of the media. “People never pick exactly what’s going to happen,” he said of Iowa polls. “They get it wrong every four years. And folks, we are not just hanging on, we are fighting to the end. And I want you to believe that there is a real possibility for a stunning upset.”
Huckabee supporters and strategists alike seem to share his vision. Linda Bauer-Lohmeier was sitting eagerly in the front row, and could barely contain her excitement when Huckabee walked in. She sprang up to hug him and as he walked away she said, almost to herself, “He’s my rock star.”
Bauer-Lohmeier, 59, grew up in Arkansas and now lives in Peoria. She said she used to schedule her evenings so she could be home to see Huckabee on Fox, and that she supported him in 2008, as well.
“I think the whole election is different with Trump and everybody in it, it’s more of a circus,” she said of the differences between this cycle and the one eight years ago. “I think [Huckabee] hasn’t gotten as much publicity, but things like this help a lot. I’m expecting him to do well. He did well last time, and I think people will get wise and realize we need a strong person that’s not a show person.”
Pat Harris, 62, is another die-hard Huckabee fan who was with him on the trail in 2008. But her loyalty runs even deeper: she’s also his sister.
“At this point, familiar,” she joked, when asked what it’s like having a sibling run for president.
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“Everybody loves him. I think they’re just so confused because there are so many candidates,” Harris said of what she’s seen in Iowa this year.
As for why her brother isn’t getting nearly the traction in the state that he did in 2008, she said, “I don’t know. And that’s honest. I don’t get it. Because I can’t find anybody that’ll step up and say, Here’s what’s wrong with your brother. And people that don’t know that I’m kin, or they do or whatever, they’ll all say, Well I really like the Huckabee guy. Well are you going to caucus for him? Well I don’t know,” she said, imitating conversations she’s had with voters.
Still, she’s hopeful about Monday night. “They don’t know who they’re going to be for,” she said of Iowans. “So they may be for him.”