Hope, Arkansas (CNN)Mike Huckabee is eyeing a more favorable calendar and stronger fundraising chops as the firewalls that will prevent his presidential bid from fizzling out early.
Huckabee, allies aim to raise $60 million
Watch Jake Tapper's interview with Mike Huckabee on "The Lead" on Wednesday at 4 p.m. EDT on CNN.
After winning the GOP caucuses in Iowa in 2008 and hosting a Fox News television show for years, Huckabee has become a nationally recognized figure. Now the pressure is on for the Republican presidential candidate to prove he can raise money and notch top tier finishes in the early nominating contests.
Huckabee's advisers acknowledged he will need a strong finish in Iowa, where Huckabee plans to spend much of this week campaigning. Then the race moves on to New Hampshire, which is less friendly territory for Huckabee and will largely be a fight among moderate Republicans such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
On Friday, Huckabee is scheduled to deliver an economic address in South Carolina, another state that where Huckabee could be competitive. But the field there is muddled by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is weighing a potential presidential run. Meanwhile, Florida's two favorite sons -- former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio -- will face off over the Sunshine State.
But Huckabee sees an opportunity in a handful of Southern states that are looking to move their contests up to March 1. If the so-called "SEC primary" pans out, it could include a handful of states that Huckabee won in 2008.
"The key is what kind of resources do you have beyond Iowa," said Bob Vander Plaats, chief executive of the social conservative organization The Family Leader in Iowa. After years in the public eye as a former presidential candidate and Fox News personality, "I don't think he can come in with $500,000 and say, 'I'm a real candidate,'" Vander Plaats added.
Huckabee raised about $16 million in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, before dropping out of the race in March. This time around Huckabee expects to raise about $60 million between his campaign and his super PAC in the early stages of his campaign, an adviser said.
A spokesman for Huckabee declined to name the donors who have pledged to support Huckabee, but there are signs the team isn't bluffing about their improved fundraising prowess. Ronnie Cameron, the chief executive of an Arkansas-based poultry producer who has given millions to conservatives, said he would back Huckabee.
Huckabee used his announcement speech Tuesday to make a plea for some cash, too, saying he won't be relying on billionaires to back his campaign.
"I will be funded and fueled not by the billionaires, but by working people across America," Huckabee said. But, "if you want to give a million dollars, please do it."
That remark is already garnering negative press because, while outside groups can accept unlimited donations, the most a presidential candidate can accept from an individual is $5,400. Now that Huckabee is officially a candidate, he and his super PAC are no longer allowed to coordinate.