On the day before the Iowa caucuses, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said a victory for his underfunded, out-organized campaign would have "a seismic impact on the political Richter scale," and he compared the intense challenge he faces from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with the American Revolutionary War, with multimillionaire Romney cast as the British Red Coats.
"Tomorrow night's going to be an important night for the process of presidential politics, unlike anything I've ever seen before," he told a crowd of 150 voters in Fort Dodge Wednesday morning. "I've been outspent 20 to one in this state. That's a pretty big hill to climb. If there ever was the definition of an underdog, look in the dictionary. There's a picture of me."
Huckabee said that, like him, the Continental Army also faced skeptics. "At the beginning of this country there were some farmers with muskets. Nobody thought they could beat the British. After all, the British were so well-financed. And they had the nice long rifles. …They had a magnificent Navy. Our guys had a few rowboats."
In a seeming comparison with the handsome, well-coiffed Romney, Huckabee referred to the British Army's "nice uniforms, all those nice shiny red coats with beautiful brass buttons."
A Huckabee victory would be quintessentially American, he suggested. America's Founding Fathers "had this amazingly radical idea about politics in government — all of us are equal. People are not going to be more equal because of their ancestry," Huckabee said. "People are not going to be more equal because of their last name or their net worth."
Huckabee, born into humble origins in Hope, Ark., and a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, said he could run for president "because our Founding Fathers had this idea that we were all equal, didn't mean that we started out with the same net income, didn't mean that we started out with a last name that opened doors, and people said, 'Oh, yes, I knew your father at Harvard at Yale or Princeton.' People knew my father from the shipyard, not Harvard.'"
Romney, whose father ran American Motors and served as governor of Michigan, earned a joint JD-MBA from Harvard Law and Harvard Business schools.
Huckabee's lead in the polls here seems to have eroded since the waves of negative TV ads run by Romney, whose millions have funded the best Iowa organization of any Republican presidential candidate. The Baptist minister has enjoyed strong support from his fellow evangelicals, but may have also hurt his campaign with some misstatements about foreign policy made after the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Most recently, Huckabee aroused skepticism with a bizarre press conference on the last day of 2007 when he showed the media an attack ad against Romney he said he wasn't going to air on television because, days after he began calling Romney "dishonest," he now wanted to run a positive campaign.
"We had a tough decision this week," the former preacher tried to explain to the Fort Dodge crowd. "Were we gonna try to fire back and do the same thing to others as they had done to us? Or were we going to do unto others as we wish they had done unto us?"
Romney's campaign used the press conference to try to paint the quick-witted Huckabee as an unserious candidate who substitutes one-liners for complex policy positions, an accusation Huckabee's rivals tried to bolster with news that Huckabee was leaving Iowa Wednesday afternoon for an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
"I tried to get Jay Leno to come out here to do the interview, but he said we needed to do it out there," Huckabee said when ABC News asked him about the decision. "I'll inconvenience myself a little bit, but our campaign has certainly been active." He said he'd likely be back campaigning Thursday morning at 5 a.m.
"Think about how many people of Iowa will be watching that show tonight," Huckabee said.
Romney has faced hurdles here as well that stem from his Mormon faith, which has prejudiced many evangelicals against him. More glaringly, Romney's positions on issues ranging from abortion to immigration reform to gun control have shifted over the years, which his opponents have exploited — as did Huckabee today.
"What you're really looking for is somebody that has some consistency," Huckabee told voters. "Whose views about being for the sanctity of life are not something that just came out of some kind of focus group or polling survey that got out last week that said, 'OK, you need to be pro-life for this election, you didn't have to for the last one and you don't have to be for the next one, but you need to be for this one.'"
During extensive time with reporters on a bus as he made his way from Fort Dodge to Mason City — the town that inspired "The Music Man," a tale about a smooth-talking salesman who charms a townful of Iowans — Huckabee said he wasn't being negative in his oblique references to Romney, since he was not mentioning him by name.
"I haven't attacked him because I've never called him by name when I did that in these speeches today," he said when ABC News pointed out that his speeches were still chockful of criticisms of Romney. "I'm going to let them draw their own conclusions. I'm trying to say that in me they have a person that has been consistent. You don't have both sides of the board being played at the same time. I'm not playing checkers with myself. It's an honest game."
At Gotham Pizza and Gaming, a crowded pizza parlor at the next stop, Huckabee again assailed how much money Romney has spent in the state.
"The people of Iowa cannot be bought," he said. "They cannot even be rented for the night."
He told them a victory for his campaign would allow the voters to tell the story of Thursday's caucuses to their offspring, telling them the tale of "when we decided in Iowa that we would not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by people waving money at us, and waving checkbooks at us."
He suggested that a victory for the well-funded Romney would be a victory for "plutocracy. …You might as well put [the presidency] on eBay and sell it to the highest bidder."