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Politico chief political correspondent Mike Allen on the Ames Straw Poll, and where Karl Rove goes from here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007
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HH: Right now, we begin the analysis after the Straw Vote with Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for www.politico.com. Hello, Mike, welcome back, thanks for being here.

MA: Well, howdy, Hugh, excited to be with you.

HH: Now Mike, very quickly, Ames. Your reaction to the actual vote totals?

MA: Well, the actual vote totals were, I thought, a little on the weak side for Governor Romney. His victory came when he looked so strong that he scared Rudy Giuliani and John McCain out of the race. Fred Thompson, not running yet, and so there’s only one varsity player on the field. When you’re the only varsity player, you should really run up the score. Now as you know, this is roughly slightly more than the percentage that George W. Bush got in 1999, plenty, did what he needed to do, but didn’t cement a frontrunner status, didn’t put the other guys in a position where they were going to have to contend to be the Romney slayer.

HH: Now let me ask you, Mike, something I’ll try out with the other experts as well, he didn’t want to so destroy the field, like Carthage at the hand of the Romans, that he would deter Giuliani and Fred Thompson from playing in Iowa. He needs them to engage, he needs to beat them, doesn’t he?

MA: No, you’re exactly right, and it’s funny, someone from one of those campaigns had said that Romney in moving toward the Caucuses, could outsmart himself by doing too well. In fact, some of the other campaigns were sort of hoping that Iowa would move the Caucuses into December, which Hugh, as you know, they’re not going to do now.

HH: Right.

MA: But that would give them the excuse not to participate. They could say this is silly. But you’re absolutely right. He needs to do not so well in the state that they’re not going to play. Romney’s campaign used this as a dry run for the Caucuses. As you know, turning people out for Caucuses is even more of a physical exercise than a primary is, so they were testing their machinery, and it worked quite well. They were thrilled with their results. They just got a little more credit than they might have if people had had a little more time to chew on the totals before they wrote their leads.

HH: I did read in your Morning Brew this morning that the deadlines for newspapers gave him a lot of headlines that couldn’t get a second bounce for Huckabee, because they went to bed before all of the details were known.

MA: (laughing) That’s a good observation, and Huckabee stories came today, and you and I have talked about this before. I think there may be some conversation. Why was Mike Huckabee automatically relegated to also-run status by donors and pundits from the very beginning? I think people are going to talk about him as a vice president, a southern governor, Evangelical Christian. All those things could be very helpful to any of the nominees toward the top. As you know, Hugh, these numbers from the Straw Poll are relatively small, so he came in second. It’s going to be tough for him to sustain. Governor Romney looks so strong at this point. I think there was a time, tell me if you disagree, I think there was a time that if you’d put a gun to the head of most Republicans, insiders, they would have said Rudy Giuliani somehow, by hook or by crook, is going to wind up as the nominee. I think pressed now, today, those same Republicans would say Governor Romney, it’s his to lose.

HH: I think you’re right about that. I also think if in January of ’07 people had asked if Romney wins Ames by driving McCain and Giuliani from the field so they don’t even compete, and Huckabee gets all the leftovers and comes in second, a distant second, what’s that mean, I think they’d come to your analysis. Although it’s much more complicated than that. I want to get to that. How many of the Huckabee votes are in fact McCain and Giuliani supporters who know they’re not supposed to vote for their guy, because their guy’s not in town, and therefore throw a bullet towards either Brownback or Huckabee?

MA: I could be completely wrong, and do ask Jonathan Martin this, but I don’t think people vote that way. It’s like political scientists will talk to you about people voting for divided government. People vote for the person they like. And there is some strategic voting. I would be surprised by that. Mike Huckabee’s been very strong in these performances. Someone from…in these public appearances. Someone from one of the top tier campaigns told me that if a debate coach were to grade just on points for physical presentation, Huckabee would have won every debate. He gave, he was good with humor, before this crowd, he went coat and tie, whereas Mitt Romney went a little more casual. Mitt Romney, by the way, I know you saw it, Hugh, was fantastic in front of this crowd. They opened with the Olympics music, which I took as a little thank you to him for making their event, right? And then all the guys were introduced to the Olympic music, sort of a reminder of who’s event this really was.

HH: (laughing)

MA: And then he brought all the family out.

HH: I didn’t know that everyone got, I didn’t know everyone got the fanfare. That’s a very subtle point. That’s a fun point. Let me ask you now about Fred Thompson, a couple of things. A) Randy Elrod, blogging over at Ethos, reports that very reliable sources say that Fred Thompson will announce his bid on Labor Day at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Have you heard that report?

MA: It’s going to be that day or the day after, because we’re told that Fred Thompson is likely to participate in the Republican debate in New Hampshire on September 5th, and that Ryman Auditorium, as you know, is an amazingly historic place, the birthplace of blues is one name they have for it. And we’re told that it was in Nashville, so that sounds right to me. I think he may do another event that day. Just to give you a quick little insight into the Fred strategy? They plan a little bit of a low impact campaign. They’re pointing to Governor Bush’s schedule in 2000, where his pattern was two events and a fundraiser a day. I think that that is the sort of schedule Senator Thompson’s going to stick to. As you know, he has been working a while with bloggers. I think he’s going to use the web to respond by video to voters. So he’s not going to be off the trail. He’s not going to try and run as a website. But he’s not going to do the diner to diner, Church to Church, break your back sort of campaigning that at least in the primaries has come to be sort of customary. One more quick point about their theories? They say that one of the reasons that they’re very hopeful that he’s going to get a new bounce or a new lift, when people start to take a look at him, he’s actually announced, a very familiar face. You recognize somebody’s face, you’re more likely to listen to them, more likely to believe what they’re saying and trust them. Then you hear that voice, a very distinctive voice, a non-slick, non-Washington voice. And if you listen to Mitt Romney, who’s saying conservative, conservative, conservative, change, change, change, that’s the kind of voice that people want to listen for. So Romney’s people who once, as you know, were all excited, all convinced he was going to change the world, now they’re not so sure. They’re taking the gamble, they know that it could be a flop. They recognize that they may have waited too long and some of the excitement may have dissipated. But he can start with a bang in early September, if he can have good money on September 30th, he’s off to the races.

HH: I think you just said Romney people. I think you meant Thompson people in that last run-up there, Mike.

MA: Yes, thank you for correcting me.

HH: Does a Snuffy Smith hammock campaign really work when you’re looking at Hillary over the horizon? Will Republicans say okay, we can run a back porch campaign with a nap in the afternoon, and beat Hillary and Clinton Inc?

MA: Well, the idea is to campaign smarter, and as you well know, there’s one event in the day that’s likely to make the news. And it is a bit of an experiment. Like does technology, does the way the country’s changing mean that you can campaign in a slightly different way? And I don’t want to overstate it, two events a day and a fundraiser, or that sort of schedule, is not exactly napping in the hammock. But they recognize his strength, and it is their theory that sort of working like a dog is not the approach to this, that it’s going to have to do with the message of the person as opposed to someone who’s going to hit every Little League park in a swing state.

HH: Now let’s finish off with the big news out of D.C. today, the Rove announcement of his resignation. Mike Allen, if you had to guess who he was inclining towards right now, Rove, and assuming for a moment he’s not going to sit out any cycle, that’s not what Michael Jordan does when the playoffs come around, which team do you expect him to be advising informally but closest?

MA: I don’t know, the answer, but I can tell you that it’s possible that he will wait to see who the nominee is, figuring that if you want to help the Republican Party, if your legacy, if your President’s legacy is partly tied to whether or not a Republican is reelected, because of course, if you’re replaced by somebody from the other party, then that will be written as a rejection of you, whether it is or not. So it’s important to their legacy to be followed by a Republican, so that makes sense for him to put his eggs in the basket of the nominee. But Hugh, one bit of insight I can give you about that is it will be behind the scenes. They recognize, and they told me this today, that the nominee needs to be his own person. Being, running as a third term of Bush clearly is not the ticket to ride this cycle. As you can see, none of the candidates are doing that. So I think Mr. Rove, I think, will be very visible in defending the President, serving as the burnisher of the legacy. I think his ’08 advice, which will be very valued, he’s the key to an amazing network that produced the triple count victory of reelecting a president, electoral vote and popular vote, that I think will be quieter.

HH: Mike Allen from www.politico.com, thank you.

End of interview.

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