I’ve been writing in my online blog at philcooke.com about Mike Huckabee’s media strategy during his campaign for president. He was a self-admitted long shot from the beginning, and I think it would be instructive to see what’s kept him in the race so long – particularly since he came out of nowhere. Certainly – as his fans have repeated on my blog and elsewhere - the keys from their perspective are his honesty, authenticity, commitment to life, leadership, and his spiritual perspective. All that would be true, but it’s not the whole story. His candidacy is a excellent lesson for any underdog, and from the perspective of a media consultant, there are some other significant reasons he’s kept in the running for so long:
1) The preparation from being a preacher. A good preacher knows how to connect with an audience, and Huckabee has done an excellent job of that. In a race where Ron Paul seems slightly odd, Romney is stiff and awkward, and McCain is unsure of his relationship to conservatives, Huckabee knows how to speak to the public. He’s spontaneous, off the cuff, authentic, and real. When he talks, you feel like there’s no bull, and you’re getting the straight stuff.
2) His Christian evangelical core audience. Few audiences are as passionate or hard working as the Christian audience, and if you can resonate with them, you have a powerful core. They are the vital center of his base that keeps the money coming in, and they are the most vocal of the campaign. In the wake of the passing of men like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, the Christian Right has stepped back from political confrontation and power, but don’t think for a minute that audience is going away.
3) His media booking operation. His guerilla marketing strategy has worked especially well with local media. His people book him on just about any local talk show that will take him, and when the other candidates are waiting in line to get on The Today Show, Mike’s out talking on local TV and radio. The LA Times reports that in one particular stretch after five primary victories on Super Tuesday, Huckabee knocked out nearly two dozen TV appearances in about 18 hours. Local radio and TV matter, and he’s become a master at speaking at local levels.
4) He has nothing to lose. While Hillary has to keep her Democratic machine happy, and McCain worries about reaching conservatives, Huckabee marches on without compromise. Nothing helps you focus like betting the farm, and he doesn’t care who he offends. People respond to that kind of courage.
5) The power of a personal story. Coming from a modest Southern background to the national political stage is a great story, and he knows how to tell it. Going to work at 14 and hurrying through college because he didn’t have money for tuition is a compelling story, and people respond. Everyone likes a hero, and you don’t find too many in national politics today.
6) He represents his faith well. One of the things I like most about Huckabee is his response when he answers questions about this religious faith. In a time when Christians often seem out of touch or secularists label us “fundamentalist” Huckabee defends his faith with reason, intelligence, and wit. He doesn’t deny it or act embarrassed. But he also doesn’t use it like a club, as many Christian leaders have done. He makes the Christian faith reasonable and intellectual. You might notice that because he handled it so well at the beginning of the campaign, few in the media even consider the issue anymore.
The truth is, he admits the odds are against him. A victory isn’t impossible, but he’d have to win nearly 9 out of 10 delegates from this point on. But his magnetism is resonating with a growing audience out there, and there’s no question that staying in the race keeps his voice heard and his issues in the public eye.
Does strategy matter? Absolutely. Don’t think for a minute “good ole’ Huck” isn’t a thinking man, and I admire him for that. He’s led a brilliant guerilla campaign with remarkably little money, resources, or endorsements. A lot of leaders – political, educational, religious, and cultural – could learn from that example.
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