by Max Brantley
We told you earlier that some of John McCain's troops weren't happy to learn that Mike Huckabee had a Promote Mike Huckabee rally at the Capital Hotel less than a week in advance of McCain's visit to Arkansas tomorrow. This is the meeting first reported by columnist David Sanders.
Why unhappy? Because many of the remarks at the meeting were built on a generally held assumption among many present that McCain would be beaten this fall (or at best, be only a one-term president), leaving the way open for a Huckabee run for president in 2012. Huckabee himself did not speak these precise words at the session, I'm told, though supporters did.
Nobody's surprised that The Huckster would put his own interests first. But the timing and appearances were terrible. There was a big crowd. Word was sure to get out. And Huckabee is co-host of the McCain fund-raiser tomorrow, not to mention that Huckabee's main money man, Little Rock banker French Hill, is co-chair of Arkansas financial efforts for McCain. Whose side is he on?
Who was there? I've been told that the crowd included French Hill, Arkansas County farmer and Huckabee Game and Fish commissioner George Dunklin, former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman, Huckabee kids (Sarah, David, John Mark and daughter-in-law Lauren all were on the campaign payroll, remember, as well as bro-in-law Jim Harris), former Huckabee aide Chad Gallagher, Texas poultry magnate Bo Pilgrim and someone described as a wealthy businessman from Indiana. A good guess for the last might be Procter and Gamble exec Nathan Estruth, a Hucakbee supporter who put together a 527 that savaged McCain and other Huckabee opponents in Iowa with robo-calling emphasizing negatives of Huckabee opponents. He's a pal of Saltsman, my source says.
You can understand why this might have caused heartburn with McCain people.
The program at the rally, in addition to a thank-you speech and talk of the future by Huckabee: Testimonials to Huckabee and the campaign's brilliance. What a stroke it was, for example, to play a negative ad against Romney in Iowa while announcing Bro. Huck was too high-minded to run such dirty pool.
News: In addition to his new PAC, Huckabee plans to create a 501-c4 nonprofit organization, something of a think tank that, in addition to giving him access to more cash, might be used to burnish his foreign policy credentials.
Future Huckabee pep rallies around the country are scheduled. You can't get moving too early when the presidency will be open in 2012, right Sen. McCain?
ANOTHER LOCAL ANGLE: The meeting illustrates a rift in the Hutchinson clan between and Tim and his brother Asa, who came out tepidly early for Huckabee and then switched to McCain in the final days. Tim Hutchinson has become very close to Huckabee. Tensions linger on future influence over the Arkansas Republican Party -- will Hutchinson or Huckabee be on top. Asa won't be coming to tea at the Huckabode any time soon, it's safe to say. (But, oh yes, Asa and Mike are co-hosts of the McCain event in LR. Going to be fun at the head table.)