Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, Republican winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, sits on a panel discussion in Des Moines hosted by the Network of Iowa Home Christian Educators.  He is widely considered to be a potential presidential candidate for the 2016 Iowa caucuses. 4/9/2015 Photo by John Pemble

I’ve never quite understood either the appeal of Mike Huckabee as a national candidate or why Mike Huckabee thinks of himself as a national candidate but, for the second time Governor Huckabee has made a bid to become the GOP’s nominee for president. In 2008, he made a creditable run in the early states but dropped out in March when it became apparent that [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] would win Texas and the nomination. Huckabee had hoped to reprise his 2008 campaign this year but has been frustrated by one man: Ted Cruz.

Cruz won the endorsement of Iowa evangelicals and national evangelicals and that left Huckabee sounded a bit peeved. Huckabee’s polling is statistical noise and he has said that unless he finishes in the top three in Iowa he will drop out. (The last Iowa poll shows him tied for sixth place.)

Earlier this week, Huckabee attacked Ted Cruz — though he did so without mentioning his name — over Cruz’s principled stance on homosexual marriage.

This signaled Huckabee’s Iowa Götterdämmerung: attack Cruz as not a true social conservative and hope to scab enough votes to finish in the top three and thereby make his own goal.

Ted Cruz, staring at hundreds of thousands of dollars in negative advertisements against him in Iowa that show only signs of growing, is battling to keep pace there with his most aggressive push yet to maintain his momentum in the Hawkeye State.

But that surge is also inviting scrutiny. Cruz returns to Iowa as five independent groups, most run by backers of Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee, are stirring voters’ doubts by spending about $600,000 against the Texas senator in direct mail, digital and radio advertisements and on television. On Wednesday, two of those groups tied to a prominent Iowa GOP operative released new advertisements that paint Cruz as being less consistent than he makes himself out to be in Iowa town halls and churches.

“Ted Cruz has been parading around Iowa trying to hoodwink conservatives, and these ads showcase that he’s willing to say anything to get elected,” said Nick Ryan, the Iowa strategist behind much of the advertising. “Fact is, he’s wrong on the issues and values that Iowa conservatives really care about.”

Ryan is a former Santorum backer who is running Huckabee’s Super PACs.

For months, Cruz remained untouched by Republican spenders, allowing him to quietly organize on the ground and raise cash to finance later advertising. But as his rivalry with Rubio escalated in the aftermath of the CNBC debate in October, American Encore, a nonprofit run by Rubio supporter Sean Noble, invested $200,000 in lashing Cruz for his votes to curtail some of the National Security Agency’s powers.

Then, at the beginning of December, the pro-ethanol America’s Renewable Future unveiled a three-week, six-figure campaign meant to show Cruz, an opponent of the state’s ethanol interests, as too cozy with the oil lobby. And this week, Ryan’s two groups, Pursuing America’s Greatness, the principal super PAC backing Huckabee, and the Iowa Progress Project launched their anti-Cruz salvos. Ryan said the groups would spend around $100,000 and $200,000 respectively through next week. A nonprofit backing Rubio also began this week to litter Iowa Republicans with anti-Cruz mailers.

This is unseemly. Huckabee, of all people, understands the federalist argument on homosexual marriage: it is an issue for the people of each state to decide. But Huckabee, at his core, is a big government social conservative. It is hard to see how this attack, by either Huckabee or via the cutout of his Super PAC serves Huckabee’s interests. And there is this snippet:

American Encore and America’s Renewable Future are no longer on the airwaves, but the total negative push comes close to outpunching Cruz and his allies, who have been cautious about sinking much early cash into Iowa. Cruz’s campaign spent $315,000 on its first round of Iowa television and radio, which only began last month (though campaigns often pay less for the same time as outside groups do). And Cruz’s super PACs have been similarly slow to invest in Iowa-specific messaging, though they recently launched a $600,000 early-state media plan.

The Iowa Caucuses are February 1. If the Huckabee Super PAC is already off the air and the Cruz campaign is just starting its ad buys, this media blitz stops being an election strategy and begins to look and smell like a consultant payday before the Huckabee campaign goes dark.

Photo credit: John Pemble. Flickr Creative Commons.