DES MOINES, Iowa -- Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee didn't qualify for Thursday's prime-time debate at the Iowa Events Center, so he joined other low-polling candidates at an earlier forum and then headed for Drake University to attend a rally with the party's highest-polling White House hopeful, billionaire Donald Trump.
While candidates near the front of the pack fielded debate questions from Fox News, the former Arkansas governor joined Trump onstage at the rally. Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator and 2012 Iowa caucus winner, also traveled to the university, 3 miles from the debate site, to stand with the New York businessman.
Trump, who boycotted the debate after objecting to Fox News' Megyn Kelly being a co-moderator, held the rally to raise funds for veterans and the Wounded Warriors organization.
Asked Thursday evening what he hoped to accomplish by appearing with Trump, Huckabee said he wanted to help raise money for a worthy cause.
"I've got nothing else going on at 8 o'clock tonight, so let's go over there and support the veterans," the 2008 Iowa caucus winner told reporters.
Asked if he was concerned that he didn't know which groups would receive the money, Huckabee said, "I don't think anybody's going to accuse Donald Trump of pocketing the money. There's one guy in the country that doesn't need it. ... Frankly, I'm going because I'm supporting [veterans], and I'll leave it up to him to determine which veterans group gets it."
Trump, who plans to campaign extensively in Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming days, also plans to make a trip to Arkansas. Plans for a 5 p.m. rally Wednesday in Little Rock's Barton Coliseum were posted on his website, www.donaldtrump.com.
On Thursday night, he welcomed Huckabee and Santorum, and announced a personal contribution of $1 million to veterans organizations. Overall, the campaign said, Trump had raised $6 million that will go to help 22 groups.
Before joining Trump, Huckabee participated in an hourlong forum, sharing the stage with Santorum and other low-polling Republicans: former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and ex-Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
The Hope native told the audience that there's a disconnect between the cultural elites and average working men and women.
"There's six of the 10 richest counties in America that surround Washington, D.C. People who live in the bubbles of the high finance world of New York, the government world of Washington, the entertainment world of Hollywood don't have a clue about how hard people out here in Iowa are working every single day."
A few minutes later, Huckabee returned to that theme, blasting people who lack compassion for Americans who struggle economically.
"I know a little about poverty," he said. "My mother grew up in a house, the oldest of seven kids. She'd lived in a house that didn't have floors. Just dirt. No electricity. No running water. I resent it when people say 'Oh, people are poor because they want to be.' No they're not. Nobody wants to be poor, and that's a stupid, foolish thing, mean thing to say."
People are poor, Huckabee said, because they don't know how to escape poverty and the government penalizes those who try to transition from welfare to work.
Others also stressed their humble roots and one clearly distanced himself from Trump. "I'm the son of a meatcutter," Gilmore said. "I didn't have a father that could give me a million-dollar loan to start a business, but my father taught character, and he provided for his family and he was a wonderful example, and I'm not about to go across town tonight to carry the coat for some billionaire," he said.
After the 60-minute undercard debate, campaign surrogates fanned out to "spin" the media.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Huckabee backer, was one of those on hand to praise Huckabee's performance.
"He did extraordinarily well, because what he did was keep his message concise and to the point. He talked about the things that Iowans need to know about, where he stands," Merrill said.
A Section on 01/29/2016