Freak Show Ends, Campaigning Begins?

Yesterday, the Freak Show aspect of the Freak Show that is presidential primary season seemed to have come to the end, and the more serious aspect of building a ground game began.

On Saturday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced on his television show that his heart was saying “no” to a run for the presidency. At the end of his announcement, reality television star Donald Trump pre-taped a message praising Huckabee.

Yesterday, Trump himself, who, along with Huckabee, was leading many national polls, said that he would not be seeking the GOP nomination in 2012.

“After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the Presidency,” Trump said. “This decision does not come easily or without regret; especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country. I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election.”

Trump and Huckabee resonated more so because of their populist appeal and message in the initial and formative stages of the race.

With them off the stage, it was symbolic that the more under the radar ground game, which political insiders often refer to as the “invisible primary” began in earnest.

In Nevada, Mitt Romney held a telethon and raised over $10 million in a single day. It was an impressive and intimidating haul that cements him as the early front-runner in this long process.

In Iowa and South Carolina, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been hiring key field staff.

But one of the most significant hires, immediately in the wake of Huckabee’s announcement, went to former Utah Gov. and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman, who is mulling a presidential run, hired Mike Campbell in South Carolina. Campbell chaired Huckabee’s 2008 campaign in South Carolina and is the son of former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell.

“On his recent visit to South Carolina, I had the opportunity to meet with Governor Jon Huntsman, and I was extremely impressed.  As Governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman demonstrated he is the type of problem-solver our country needs,” Campbell said. “He’s a proven conservative who cut taxes, grew jobs, passed free-market health care reform, and signed strong pro-life legislation.”

Added Campbell: “Like my Dad, Huntsman was a popular Governor who kept his promises and left office with a powerful record of achievement. As more South Carolinians get to know Governor Huntsman, I believe they will come to the same conclusion I have — that he is the right leader for our party and our country in this important election.”

With Trump and Huckabee out, the social conservative and more populist vote — in addition to the race for the nomination — became even more wide open and unpredictable than it was before.