**Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**
• Huckabee in Iowa: 99 counties, 25 days and one last chance
• Cruz can no longer swim in Trump’s shadow
• Bubba’s no sex symbol anymore
• Take Five: Key on Buckeye, Granite states
• Russian-style wedgie
HUCKABEE IN IOWA: 99 COUNTIES, 25 DAYS AND ONE LAST CHANCE
On the road to Sigourney, Iowa (pop. 2.037) this morning for a day of campaigning in the 99th of 99 counties in the state, Mike Huckabee sounded defiant and maybe, like the voters there, a little fed up.
The last round of polling put the former Arkansas governor technically in sixth place in the state – 3 percent in the Real Clear Politics Average – but it’s more accurate to say that he’s stuck with a half-dozen Iowa also-rans at the back of the pack.
This is not the place that befits the man that for a long time was probably the most popular national politician in Iowa and whose 2008 victory created the model for winning that state that worked in 2012 and seems to be working in 2016. Just not for him.
But Huckabee, hoarse on the telephone after 150 campaign events, was not having any doomsaying.
“The reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” he said with a crack like a rifle shot when asked about his campaign’s struggles.
Huckabee makes his case: He is better known, better liked and more often present than the candidates ahead of him and when famously late-breaking Iowa Republicans rip up the leaderboard in the week prior to the Feb. 1 caucuses, he will emerge.
“You can’t just drive through, pose for a picture and wave. We have real events – real town halls – not just photo-ops,” Huckabee said. “You’re not going to fool these people.”
Repeating a favorite analogy, Huckabee says that Iowa voters like to “date everybody” but “don’t put a ring on it ‘till the wedding day.”
“There’s such clutter here now. I’ve never seen anything like it. You can’t turn on the TV without being inundated by ads. You open your mailbox and it’s overflowing with direct mail. You go home and it’s a barrage of phone calls,” Huckabee said. “Nothing is breaking through. But Iowans want to know you. They need to see you. That’s what counts in the end.”
The man they know and like the most right now, though, is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is also crisscrossing Iowa these days. Cruz has won over the coalition of conservative influencers who vaulted Huckabee into contention nationally with a Iowa upset in 2008. The same faith leaders and activists who coalesced behind Huckabee in 2008 and former Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 have mostly lined up early and vocally for Cruz.
Cruz is doing what Huckabee did before, but he’s doing it with more money, more organization and a lot more attention. And his key Iowa supporters have long told Fox News First that they are deliberately choosing a candidate with a broader national base than they did in 2008 and 2012. The goal is to avoid the repeat of giving a conservative candidate an early boost only to see them falter in the home stretch.
As one conservative leader recently told us “this time, we’re going all the way.”
And then there’s Donald Trump. Trump has lately started running ads in the state. But other than enduring the ignominy of being photographed wrapping his lips around a pork chop on a stick at the state fair, Trump has mostly relied on mega rallies, and, of course, constant media coverage to make his case in Iowa. Even though he seems unlikely now to overtake Cruz, Trump has been a big part of the clutter than has been so tough for Huckabee to break through.
“Maybe this is the time that Iowa is different. Maybe this is the time that money and media will win here. That’s possible,” he said. “But that’s not what I think. I think Iowans are going do what they’ve always done. Look everybody over and then go with the one they know and trust at the end.”
Huckabee says his campaign’s internal polling shows 75 percent of Iowa caucusgoers have not settled on a candidate. Huckabee says he believes that in the last 25 days will bring true upheaval to the race.
And he at least has history on his side. Twenty-five days before the 2012 caucuses, Newt Gingrich was a dozen points ahead and still gaining while eventual winner Santorum was in seventh place and hovering in the mid-single digits.
Cruz believes he’s changed the Iowa game. Huckabee, like Santorum, believes that Iowa is still going to be Iowa. The next three weeks will sort out who’s right and who’s heading home.
[AEHQ In Depth: Iowans and their issues - Bret Baier goes deep with Iowa voters on the issues they’re looking to hear most about as caucus day gets closer. Watch “Special Report with Bret Baier” tonight at 6 p.m. ET.]
CRUZ CAN NO LONGER SWIM IN TRUMP’S SHADOW
Sen. Ted Cruz’s days as a pilot fish swimming in the shadow of bull shark, Donald Trump have come to an end. Until now, Cruz has been able to quietly fundraise and accrue support without much scrutiny. But his rise in the polls and increased attacks, on and by, opponents has pushed him and his record into the spotlight. He has been characterized as weak on national security, flip-flopping on immigration, and now the folks of Iowa are trying to stop him from being the first candidate to potentially win the state without supporting ethanol subsidies.
All this while he defends his eligibility to run for the high office amid concerns he may not be a citizen of the United States. Where Trump once provided reprieve for Cruz he is now creating a wave of seismic proportion for the Texas senator, pushing him into a defensive space as the first contests draw ever nearer…
Cruz says it’s government he’s against, not farmers - In an op-ed for the DMR, Cruz looks to clarify his seemingly shifting stance on federal subsidies on ethanol: “One of the reasons that Iowa’s own Rep. Steve King — a ferocious advocate for Iowa farmers — is enthusiastically supporting my campaign is because, although I oppose government subsidies, I am a passionate supporter of a free and fair energy marketplace. My view on energy is simple: We should pursue an ‘all of the above’ policy. We should embrace all of the energy resources with which God has blessed America: oil and gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, and biofuels and ethanol. But Washington shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.”
Nonetheless Iowa agribusiness not pleased… - WSJ: “The state’s biggest ethanol trade groups are in the midst of a multi-million-dollar campaign to stop Mr. Cruz from becoming the first presidential candidate in either party to win the state while opposing the standard since it was enacted.”
McCain climbs on Cruz birther bandwagon - WaPo: “Sen. John McCain questioned whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who was born in Canada, is eligible to be president. McCain, who has long clashed with Cruz in the Senate, said on KFYI Wednesday that ‘it's worth looking into’ whether Cruz is a natural born citizen, a requirement to be president…When asked how Cruz could run for president if he was born in Canada, McCain answered, ‘I do not know the answer to that.’”
Rubio’s drops J-Bomb in new faith ad - In a new ad set to air this weekend in Iowa, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks about his faith life saying, “Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator for all time. To accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”
Bailout billionaire dumps big money on Jeb’s super PAC - WSJ: “Maurice R. ‘Hank’ Greenberg, who built American International Group Inc. into a world-wide financial powerhouse before its controversial government bailout [through the President George W. Bush administration], has donated $10 million to the super PAC backing Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, making him one of the largest contributors in the 2016 race.”
“If he engages, and Trump comes after 43? You gotta know who 43 is to know that you can punch him once, but you won’t punch his ass twice.” – Former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson in an interview with Bloomberg News calling for George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, to take on GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
He also promises not to run in the Kentucky Derby - Reuters: “U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Wednesday ruled out a third-party candidacy should Donald Trump win the party’s 2016 nomination but held tight to his belief that Trump is a ‘jerk’ and not qualified to be president…[In New Hampshire, Bush said] ‘No. I’m not going to run as a third-party candidate, no matter who wins the nomination,’ Bush said. ‘I’ve been supporting Republicans since Richard Nixon.’”
CANDIDATES LINE UP FOR AEI FORUM IN SOUTH CAROLINA
The Jack Kemp Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are set to host a forum for six of the GOP candidates in Columbia, S.C. on Jan. 9. The forum on expanding economic opportunity will be moderated by Speaker Paul Ryan and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. The candidates slated to attend include: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. The forum will begin at 8:30am at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. RSVP here.
WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…
Drones deliver Christmas presents, computers park our cars, and now robots patrol the seas. Well, just the Great Barrier Reef for now. Quartz brings us the tale of a robot that is programmed to protect Australia’s crown jewel by killing its leading predator: the crown of thorns starfish: “The robot—named COTSbot—is equipped with cameras, GPS, five thrusters, an injection arm, and sensors to roam the reef for up to eight hours at a time, using its extendable arm to deliver more than 200 lethal shots of poisonous bile salts. The injected starfish die within 24 hours… Researchers spent months developing the machine-learning system and training the autonomous underwater vehicle to recognize the starfish accurately by showing it images of COTS and non-COTS. Researchers claim the robot identified its target 99.4% of the time in laboratory tests, even ignoring 3D-printed decoys.”
Got a TIP from the RIGHT or the LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM
Real Clear Politics Averages
Republican Nomination – Trump 35 percent; Cruz 19.5 percent; Rubio 11.5 percent; Carson 8.8 percent
General Election: Clinton vs. Trump – Clinton +4.8 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Republicans +0.5
BUBBA’S NO SEX SYMBOL ANYMORE
Donald Trump has claimed credit for introducing several topics into the national dialogue, particularly illegal immigration, free trade, and domestic Islamist terrorism. But those things were already part of the discussion when he arrived on the scene.
But there is one topic that Trump can truly claim credit for having put in the headlines: allegations of sexual misconduct against former President Bill Clinton.
Only one candidate had previously dared to broach what had been considered the untouchable topic. In a Vogue article from September 2013, Kelley Paul, wife of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, described Bill Clinton’s behavior as, “I would say his behavior was predatory, offensive to women,” something her husband backed her up on.
The response was remarkable. Reporters who were accustomed to the conventional wisdom that allegations, including of rape, against Clinton were toxic not to Clintons but rather to the Republicans who leveled them were suddenly in a new world.
The magic media phrase since the 1998 impeachment debacle is always “Republican overreach.”
But this is not 1998 anymore. Just ask Bill Cosby or the supporters of a crusade against campus sex assaults.
Democrats long winked away Clinton’s behavior as that of an old dog – and maybe even admired his sexual prowess or desirability. Even as multiple women have come forward with claims that their sexual interactions with Clinton were not consensual.
Last fall, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said she would make support for sex abuse victims a key campaign platform. In an interview on the issue she said that “any woman who reports an assault should be heard and believed.”
But when asked about the women her husband may have assaulted Clinton tweaked that resounding statement saying, “Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.”
Paul’s low-energy campaign couldn’t carry the banner, but he did find that worries of “overreach” were mostly unfounded in this era of new sexual prohibitions. Trump, in response to a rebuke from his former friend Hillary for being sexist when he said then Sen. Barack Obama had “schlonged” her in 2008, let fly with the attack on Bubba.
And as it happened, the press has only been all too happy to talk about famous people and sex. That’s what they were going to cover anyway, so why not do it for politics, too?
Will it matter? That depends on whether Clinton can rediscover the vitality that made him seem like an object of desire 20 years ago. As a gaunt, 69-year-old with a reedy voice, Clinton is a scary sight for younger voters, especially women, who may be learning for the first time about these most lurid allegations.
The Judge’s Ruling: Obama’s gun edicts won’t hunt - Noting the modern Supreme Court’s determination that the right to bear arms is a fundamental right, Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano says President Obama’s recent executive action on guns exceeds his authority and will not survive a Constitutional test. “The president can no more write his own laws or impose his own interpretations upon pre-existing laws than Congress or the courts can command the military.” Read it here.
TAKE FIVE: KEY ON BUCKEYE, GRANITE STATES
The word from National Journal Political Editor Josh Kraushaar: watch Ohio and New Hampshire. For this week’s “Take Five,” Kraushaar shares his picks of the five most vulnerable Republican held seats in the battle for control of the Senate on the latest edition of Power Play.
The co-author of the revered Hotline Senate Rankings puts Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as most likely to seats to flip from red to blue, but says the Buckeye and Granite States are true bellwethers. With strong incumbents, high-profile challengers and a decline in voters who split their ballot, he says the key to victory in both races will likely be who tops the national ticket. And who does he think Sens. Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte would like to see at the head of the GOP slate? WATCH HERE.
Your tally - Fox News First reader votes rank the five Republican held senate seats at greatest risk of turning blue: 1) Illinois; 2) Wisconsin; 3) Pennsylvania; 4) Ohio; 5) Florida.
Don’t forget to vote! - Share your picks of the key GOP-held seats in the battle for control of the Senate. Email them – just your top five, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @ChrisStirewalt.
New Hampshire - “Ayotte, Hassan Each Haul $2M” – National Journal
Ohio - “With $10 million haul, Portman breaks Ohio fundraising record” – Cincinnati Enquirer
Pennsylvania - “Toomey criticizes Obama on guns, Dems praise president – Philadelphia Inquirer
Wisconsin - “Ron Johnson campaign launches digital ad push” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Florida - “Six South Florida mayors endorse Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate” – Tampa Bay Times
Sky News: “Police who arrived at a shop after an alarm went off were surprised to find a pair of legs dangling from a hole in the ceiling. According to a police report, a 40-year-old man tried to get into a shop in the Russian town of Krasnoyarsk through a hole in the roof - but got stuck. Officers managed to free the man and promptly detained him. A video released by police showed the man’s legs sticking out from a hole in the damaged roof. The man told police he was not the first person to climb into the shop. A criminal case has been opened against the unsuccessful thief.”
AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“There is only one way to affect what the North Koreans do and that is through China…One way that we could do it is with a simple statement from the United States. It shall be the policy of the United States to look favorably upon Japan and South Korea acquiring a nuclear deterrent and that we would give whatever assistance is required, end of statement.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.