MICHELE NORRIS, host:
We've been spending time talking with people who were behind the scenes in the presidential campaigns. Today, we speak with the campaign manager for Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas.
John Saltsman's friends call him Chip, as in chip off the old block. He is named after his dad. Saltsman says the Huckabee campaign has been all over Iowa this past year. They're trying to build momentum after a surprise second place finish at the Iowa straw poll in August.
Mr. JOHN SALTSMAN (Campaign Manager, Mike Huckabee): We take the foundation that we built on the straw poll, where we've got twenty-six hundred votes. And that becomes the baseline of our organization all over the state of Iowa. We have literally hundreds of volunteers that have already signed up for the campaign. We've got county chairman all over the state of Iowa. Now, we're working on the twenty-one hundred precinct chairmen that we need.
And then if you break that down, each precinct chairman is going to have a goal of getting anywhere from 10 or 15, to 20 to 50 folks there on caucus night. And that's it. It's not - I used to tell Senator Frist all the time, this isn't heart transplant surgery. This is politics 101. And especially with Iowa and New Hampshire being so close after New Year's, you know, the great equalizer becomes Santa Claus.
Apple and GM and Wal-Mart and all those folks are going to be on TV from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And so, those TV ads that you would typically see 30 or 45 days before an election aren't going to be as ineffective if they didn't have Christmas there. That kind of level of static, is what I'll call it, gives us an opportunity to get out there and organize county by county. And then, I think we'll have enough resources after Christmas to get up on TV, to get up on radio, to do the mail and do that and be competitive with those other guys as we go on to the last 10 or 15 days.
NORRIS: Now, you're a campaign manager. You're also salesman. You spend a lot time on the phone trying to convince people to back your candidate…
Mr. SALTSMAN: Right
NORRIS: …to either donate or to get behind them in one way or the other. I imagine that you only have about 30 seconds to make that pitch if you're trying to sell…
Mr. SALTSMAN: Sometimes less.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: Okay. So you're trying to sell Mike Huckabee as an undervalued stock. I want to hear your pitch. And I'm going to go right now, 30 seconds. What is it?
Mr. SALTSMAN: Mike Huckabee is the guy that is the best general election candidate for the Republican Party for several reasons. One, the Democrats can't pitch and hone. Not only is he socially conservative, but if you look at his records ten and a half years as a governor, you look at what he did in arts and education, you look what he did with the health care system, this is a guy that can reach out to the middle. This is a guy that can reach out to conservative Democrats. And this is a guy that can make best case for the Republican Party to control the Whitehouse in 2008.
NORRIS: Oh, you did that in 25 seconds, five seconds to spare.
Mr. SALTSMAN: Ah, you know, I'm pretty good on the time thing. I'll take that extra five seconds, if you don't mind. You can go to mikehuckabee.com and make your contribution right now.
NORRIS: Oh, of course, of course.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Now, you mentioned there his conservative credentials. It's interesting because this week, a group of conservatives met in secret and they issued a fairly strong threat to the Republican Party. They said if Rudy Guliani leads in several of the national polls - if he gets the GOP nomination, they're going to get behind a third-party or an independent candidate. Your candidate, you say, has strong conservative credentials. Why aren't you getting more attention or respect from conservative leaders?
Mr. SALTSMAN: Well, I think we're starting to. And we saw a lot of those folks and we met with several different groups in February and March. And they all came and said this, you know, governor, we really like you. You're a great guy, but we don't think you can win. And so, you know, we have had the last six months proving to them that we can win. And now, we're getting a few of those kind of folks, especially in the conservative community, who said you know what, Governor Huckabee is the best candidate for us. He's the best communicator. We need to get behind him and make sure that he wins the nominee.
NORRIS: Now, some would look at his campaign, his current status and his, I guess, passion for this, and wonder if he's really positioning himself as a vice presidential candidate.
Mr. SALTSMAN: Well, you know, I love it when people say that simply because a year ago, they said they had no chance. Six months later, they say he'd be a great vice -president. Give me another three months and they're going to be talking about who are we going to pick as his vice president.
NORRIS: Oh, there's that sales pitch again.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SALTSMAN: I've worked it once or twice.
NORRIS: That's John "Chip" Saltsman, campaign manager for Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
NPR editor Ron Elving explores how Republicans are focusing on Hillary Clinton's candidacy for the Democratic nomination. That's in his column, Watching Washington, at npr.org.