Fortified by political events in the heartland, Mike Huckabee spear carriers have been slowly but determinedly appearing on the Republican primary battlements in New Jersey.
They know they’re not mobilizing major operations on the East Coast. To get a sense of how Huckabee’s been doing here, in Quinnipiac University’s late September poll, the candidate was two points ahead of Sen. Sam Brownback – who was no longer in the race.
But Huckabee’s Arkansas erstwhileness and Good Book credentials have catapulted the former governor into a double-digit lead over former front-runner Mitt Romney in Iowa, inspiring even his north of the border, shore-huggingsupporters.
"My site has gone from 20 or 30 hits a day three weeks ago, to between 75 and 100 hits a day," said Bill Garcia of Englishtown, who in the early fall set up NJChristiansforHuckabee. "Something is definitely catching on."
"When I set up my website in early September, I was getting seven hits a day – this was before the Huckaboom," said family man David Friedrich, a teacher in Hopewell Township and founder of Nj4huckabee.blogspot.com. "Now I’m 30-40 hits per day, and a lot of those hits are starting to originate from New Jersey. I’m thrilled."
Operating independently, Garcia and Friedrich said they both helped collect signatures for Huckabee in time for today’s state Division of Elections deadline to get their candidate on the ballot. Friedrich mailed his in. An official coordinator from the Huckabee campaign accepted Garica’s signatures yesterday at the Day’s Inn in East Brunswick.
"I do know you need 1,000 signatures and we had a goal of 1,700, which we surpassed," said Garcia, a 42-year old family man and financial rep. "We submitted them in person with a notary public on hand at the hotel."
Garcia admitted Huckabee’s supporters here have still not gone from the virtual to the animal warmth stage, and are just now scheduling meet-ups around the state to go face to face with others on the Huckabee trail.
"He’s a Christian, and I’m a Christian," said Garcia of his chief reason for supporting the candidate, an ordained Baptist minister. "It happens I’m also a Baptist. I like the fact that he’s pro life, he’s winning me over on the fair tax. I agree with him on immigration and healthcare. I agree that we don’t want Hillarycare. We want the market to dictate prices.
"Basically it’s conservative family values," Garcia added. "We need to go back in time rather than forward, in terms of our values."
In addition to appreciating his candidate’s views on education, healthcare and immigration, Friedrich said of Huckabee from the standpoint of first principles, "he embraces social conservatism and the sanctity of life. He recognizes that marriage is between a man and a woman.’
Panic-stricken by Huckabee’s rise in the polls in Iowa, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, last week gave a speech to try to crystalize his Christian beliefs for the sake of uneasy voters.
Garcia wasn’t convinced.
"I like Romney as a guy," he said. "But I’m also a Baptist. It’s on my blog, and it’s not intended to be an insult but Mormonism is a cult. The teachings are not the same. He didn’t win me over. Maybe America just isn’t ready for a different faith, but in Mormonism you’re subject to officials. You have to drop what you’re doing when they call. If they ask you to do something to increase membership or help with donations, you have to do it. It is an issue."
Friedrich likewise was unmoved.
"I like Gov. Romney, and I know they were saying over the last few months that he had been planning to address faith and religion," he said, "but I question the timing of the speech."
For Romney’s supporters in New Jersey, it’s not his religion that distinguishes the former one-term Massachusetts governor’s public life as much as family values, political results and a business background.
"Romney’s the only first tier candidate who’s got a stable family life," said former Assemblyman Dick Kamin. "It’s important to show what America’s about.
"He turned around that fiasco in Utah with the Olympics, and he functioned effectively as governor in a very Democratic state," Kamin added.
Decidedly in the minority here as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani trounces both Romney and Huckabee in New Jersey polls, Garcia and Friedrich are nonetheless convinced they have a winner nationwide, and look forward to bonding and working with others committed to a Huckabee presidency.
"I don’t know much about politics," said Garcia. "But a few months ago I didn’t know anything about blogs."