Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been quietly winnowing down the salaries of his campaign staff in recent days, a move that signals distress for a campaign struggling to stay in the race long enough to see primary voting begin.
The former governor of Arkansas, who has consistently polled in the single digits pretty much since he announced his candidacy in May, has struggled to raise money and gain recognition in a crowded 2016 primary race dominated by boisterous personalities (ahem, Trump).
Huckabee's senior spokeswoman Alice Stewart abruptly left the campaign on Monday, prompting public speculation that this might be the beginning of the end for the campaign. But Huckabee promised that everything was totally fine, telling CNN's Jake Tapper that Stewart left because she was "exhausted" and "if people try to read more into it than is there, they're going to be making a huge mistake."
In a report published on Thursday by Politico that revealed that Huckabee's campaign has been steadily cutting the salaries of its senior staff in recent weeks, Stewart countered that she was "far from exhausted."
The salary news, combined with the departure of the chief communications manager, isn't exactly the sign of a completely healthy campaign. Senior Huckabee communications adviser Hogan Gidley told CNN that the decision on salaries had been made months ago.
Huckabee's current situation somewhat resembles the final days of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's failed campaign for the Republican nomination. He dropped out of the race in September after lacking the hard dollars required to pay staffers and day-to-day campaign field operations.
The Huckabee campaign decided to reduce staff salaries in order to focus more resources on the Iowa caucuses, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Huckabee's campaign manager and daughter, told Politico. Huckabee's victory in Iowa in 2008 gave him enough momentum to stay in the race through much of the primary season, and the campaign is hoping to get a similar lift again.
But Huckabee won Iowa largely through his appeal to the state's evangelical and socially conservative base, which will be harder to secure this time around. He's competing with two other leading candidates with strong religious appeal, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, for the support of those voters. That will be a tough competition, considering that both Cruz and Carson have tens of millions of dollars more than Huckabee, vital endorsements, and far higher poll numbers.
Huckabee is averaging about 2 percent in the Iowa polls and has $761,411 cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign filings. Cruz, on the other hand, is in the lead in Iowa with an average of 26.4 percent, and has more than $13 million in cash.
For Huckabee, the February 1 contest in Iowa is a make or break moment.
"Obviously, if we go to Iowa and lose — well frankly we probably won't keep going," Huckabee Sanders told Politico. "If we end up at 2 percent in Iowa then, no, because nobody's getting paid."
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