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Washington Post The Fix blogger analyzes the Ames straw poll, and speculates about the future of Karl Rove in the ’08 cycle.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007
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HH: From Politico’s Mike Allen over to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. Chris, welcome back, good to have you.

CC: Hey, Hugh, good to be here.

HH: Let’s quickly get your reaction to the Ames results yesterday. Who were the big winners according to the man who writes the Fix?

CC: Well, I think Mitt Romney, no surprise, was a winner, because, well, frankly, he won. Now people say he spent too much money, he did too much of this, he did too little of that. Look, in the end, he won, and I really do think people debating over was it a big enough win, I think that’s an insider’s game. I don’t think regular folks are dialed in to did he win by 2,000 or 3,000. The other winner I would say Mike Huckabee. Coming in second, he spent, they bought less tickets than they got votes. That’s always a good sign at Ames. And look, I think Mike Huckabee’s been waiting for a spark. He hasn’t raised much money, he’s impressed in debates, and I think he needed some kind of spark for his candidacy. This could be it. I say could, because we don’t know if Mike Huckabee can take advantage of a good Ames showing, if he’s got the organization in place to actually make it happen, raise more money, get more fat in these early states. That’s all still up in the air. But at least he’s got an opening now.

HH: You know, Huckabee needed to get a surf out of this, a big wave, and of course, Karl Rove comes out and steps on his story today, effectively sending him back to the second tier with by diverting the attention from him. Before we leave him, how many of the Huckabee votes do you think were McCainiacs and Giuliani supporters voting strategically, Chris Cillizza?

CC: Well, I don’t know is the honest answer. I think that a fair number of them weren’t, probably, because to be honest, Hugh, I was there, it was about 97 degrees. You know, Ames is not exactly centrally located in Iowa. So I don’t think you would go there if you were a McCain or a Giuliani or a Fred Thompson person, just to mess with the results. Maybe you would, you get free barbecue. But it was hot. And so I don’t think it was. What I think it was is I sat and watched all these guys speak. You know, everybody got a chance to speak, starting at about 12:45 in the afternoon, voting ended at 6:00. Huckabee’s speech was good. You know, it actually gives me some faith that this thing wasn’t just people had gone in and decided who they were voting for before they had even got there. I think a lot of people did, but I think for the group that hadn’t, Huckabee impressed. You know, and again, he’s impressed us again and again. He’s a good speaker, he’s a good debater. He’s not a good fundraiser. And in the world of which we currently live, good fundraising matters probably a little bit more than those other two.

HH: Now do you expect that Duncan Hunter and Sam Brownback will join Tommy Thompson headed for the exit?

CC: Well, unlike Thompson, who made a pledge that if he didn’t finish first or second he would get out, neither of those two have. I think both of them have major problems with their candidacy, though. With Hunter, I mean, it’s never really seemed as though he had a legitimate chance. He’s not very well known, he got a very small number of votes despite going there, despite having had a showing there. But he didn’t do anything. So I’m not sure how or why he continues. With Brownback, he did place third, and they can argue well, third, you know, we’re in the top three, and that gives us a chance. The problem is he finished behind Mike Huckabee. Now Huckabee spent less money going after the same of voter, social conservative voters, somebody who might be attracted to someone with an Evangelical background. And he came in behind Huckabee. Now on the ground, you could tell that Brownback had spent a lot more money. He had a lot of tent space, he had balloon tents that you could bounce around in for your kids, he had slides, he had a climbing wall. Mike Huckabee essentially had a little stage where he and his band played on. So you know, it’s a blow for Brownback. I could see how they justify staying in, but if there is going to be a true social conservative candidate to emerge, and there may not be, but if there’s going to be one, it now looks more likely that it’s Huckabee than Brownback.

HH: Now let me ask you, Chris Cillizza, over at my blog, I’ve reported what Nashville blogger Randy Elrod says is a lock now that Fred Thompson’s going to announce on Labor Day in the Ryman Auditorium there in Nashville. Have you heard that yet?

CC: I haven’t heard it. I mean, everything I’ve heard is right around Labor Day, either Labor Day, the day after. You know, I’m scared, to be honest, about making predictions about when Fred Thompson’s going to get in, because I would have guessed it would have been around July 4th.

HH: Yeah.

CC: If you had talked to me two months ago. So I don’t want to get out too in front of it, but look, I mean, the practical realities of running for president make it so that he’s got to get into this thing sometime soon. I mean, he’s already starting $35 million dollars behind Mitt Romney, and a bunch of money behind Rudy Giuliani, too. And like I said, money’s so important in these things. You’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to introduce yourself to people, you’ve got to get known. Now Thompson has less of a challenge there, because he’s on TV, people know who he is. But you know, he’s going to have his opponents out negatively defining him as we get closer to the Iowa Caucuses. He’s got to have the money and the organization to be able to respond.

HH: You just spent a weekend, a very hot weekend in Iowa. And did you hear any kind of the sort of rumbles you would associate with a genuinely populist we must have Fred campaign?

CC: I didn’t. You know, Fred had a booth, a very unofficial booth at the Ames Straw Poll, folks calling themselves Fredheads, and handing out Fred Thompson 2008 bumper stickers. But it wasn’t as though every voter I talked to said what about Fred Thompson? Now I will say that the Des Moines Register, while I was there, you know, the Straw Poll was going on, all these candidates are in the state, above the fold, stripped across the whole paper, Thompson To Visit Iowa Next Week. So he does get a chance, do you know, what I mean?

HH: Yeah, sure.

CC: There’s going to be a chance for him, I think right when he announces, to sort of regain the momentum that he seems to have lost with the fundraising not being what his campaign had said it would be, with the campaign manager leaving or being fired. I still think for most average voters, the campaign of Fred Thompson hasn’t started yet. Once he announces it will start, then I think he’ll have a chance to make it right.

HH: But Mike Allen just said to me that he’s heard that Thompson’s going to run a two-event, one fundraiser a day campaign. And I wonder, and it’s more of a feel issue, and you’ve been on the road a lot more than I have in the last three months, can a Snuffy Smith, you know, lying in my hammock, getting up off the back porch for some lemonade campaign work in 2007 and 2008, Chris Cillizza?

CC: I don’t think so, and I think it would be a mistake if that was the campaign Thompson was running. Now he has, throughout his political career, faced questions about his political metabolism, you know, does he have the heart to do it. I mean, Hugh, you’ve seen this, and I’ve seen it up close, running for office is not a cakewalk. You’ve got to be tireless, going to event after event. When I was in Iowa one day last week, Mitt Romney did six town halls in one day. You know, the problem for Fred Thompson is he’s up against a guy like Romney who seems tireless, who whether he is enjoying it or not makes it look like he’s enjoying it. And when you’ve got a guy out there going to six events, and you’re doing two at the most, well, I’m no mathematician, but he’s probably meeting three times as many people as you are.

HH: Right.

CC: And so that’s…you know, I think that’s a problem. I mean, I think Thompson gets a long way with his star power, and with the fact that he’s a Southern conservative, or at least perceived that way. And that gets him far, but it doesn’t get him the nomination.

HH: Now last question, Rove of course, the big story of the day. Do you see him inclining towards any of these campaigns, Chris Cillizza? What’s the buzz about Rove’s favor to succeed his boss?

CC: You know, I don’t know. That’s always been sort of the open question, that and who does George W. Bush really favor. You know, you can make the argument for Romney. A lot of Jeb Bush’s people in Florida are now with the Romney campaign. You know, the Romney messaging is not all that different than what the George Bush messaging was in 1999. You know, I was at the Iowa State Fair this weekend. Mitt Romney said we need to work together, we need to work across the aisle, people are tired of Washington not working, you know that outsidery message was what George Bush was running on. It was a long time ago now, but that was his messaging. I think that Karl Rove is probably going to stay away from doing anything as it relates to getting involved with one of these candidates. I think he’s had his run with his candidate, for better or worse. You know, he’s spent a long time nurturing the political career of George W. Bush. I don’t think he’s going to jump in three months to somebody else.

HH: All right. Chris Cillizza, always a pleasure from the Washington Post’s The Fix.

End of interview.

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