With Mitt Romney’s departure from the contest for the Republican nomination for the presidency, the only remaining (serious) competition for John McCain is going to be Mike Huckabee. So what does Huckabee do now? The first thing Huckabee has to do is make it clear that he isn’t following Romney out the door. There are still a number of Southern and Midwestern states in which he can be competitive, and his support is bound to increase with Romney’s former supporters shopping for a new candidate to support.
This brings me to the second thing Huckabee must do, and that’s to consolidate these confused Romney supporters in his camp. Most Romney people are going to feel betrayed and be stunned and may take a while to contemplate which candidate to support now. A good many of them – the anybody-but-McCain crowd – will probably opt for Huckabee as a protest against McCain’s seeming inevitability. An even larger subgroup of Romney’s supporters are those who never disliked Huckabee as much as Romney wanted them to, and they’ll move to Huck as their natural second choice. There’s also a subgroup of former Huckabee supporters who abandoned Huckabee when he lost in South Carolina. Huckabee can hope that this group will return to him, but the fact is they left him once because he was looking like an underdog…and he’s still the underdog even with Romney gone.
The third thing Huckabee needs to do is start raising money. I don’t mean one or two good days, and I’m not talking about raising $250,000 in one day, which up until now would have been considered a banner day for Huckabee. He needs to persuade some of the big-money Romney backers to start making the same $2300 maximum contributions to his campaign that they so willingly gave to Romney back in 2007. And he absolutely has to get the grassroots growing again – the real strength of politics is found when thousands and thousands of ordinary people give $20 each week or each month.
There’s going to be a strong media movement to crown McCain as the inevitable winner of the party’s endorsement now that Romney is out. While winning the party’s nod outright seems like a longshot, Huckabee has been a longshot ever since he declared for the presidency. He isn’t going to back down just because the pundits say he can’t win. So the fourth and final step that Huckabee has to take is to begin winning at least half of the states from here on out. As long as he can match McCain state for state beginning now, he should be able to prevent McCain from winning outright before the convention. That’s when the deals start being made and surprises start happening.