WASHINGTON -- Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who once trailed badly with little money and a skeletal campaign staff, has now pulled ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to steal the lead.
Last week, Newsmax caught up with Huckabee during his visit to Washington, D.C.
Huckabee, ecstatic about the rising poll numbers, explained the momentum factor: “We’re the only campaign that has had one trajectory, and that’s been forward and upward… We’re the only campaign that has not had a peak and now has slipped backwards.”
According to a Des Moines Register poll out this past weekend, Huckabee has the solid support of 29 percent of Iowans who say they definitely or probably will attend the Republican Party’s caucuses on Jan. 3. Romney placed second with 24 percent.
Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is not catching fire in Iowa, nor is former Sen. Fred Thompson, pulling 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
The phenomenon that is Mike Huckabee has not been lost on others deeply involved in the 2008 contest. Bill Clinton has candidly admitted that Huckabee may just be wife Hillary’s worst nightmare in a general-election matchup.
And Sen. Barack Obama is on record saying that Huckabee is his personal favorite GOP candidate.
Could the Democrats really want Mike Huckabee as their opponent next year?
“I think it just shows how smart these guys really, really are,” Huckabee tells Newsmax. “It’s an honestly good thing to have people who look at you as a formidable candidate. I think sometimes there are more Democrats who worry about me than the Republicans do.”
Newsmax last visited with candidate Huckabee this past summer.
Today, Huckabee exudes confidence.
Months ago, Huckabee stressed his greatest strength: he hadn’t “flip-flopped” on the signature issues.
“I have nothing to explain,” Huckabee said then with confidence. “I’m comfortable in my own skin.”
Iowa voters seems to be reacting to Huckabee’s authenticity.
Gena Norris, who along with her TV action star husband Chuck Norris, has boarded the Huckabee bandwagon big-time, reinforced the idea.
“He is just soooo genuine,” she confides to Newsmax.
She and Chuck were with Huckabee in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the latest debate and had joined him as well in Washington.
Mr. Norris notes that committing to Huckabee was not an easy thing:
“It was a tough thing because Duncan Hunter is a very close friend of mine and Fred Thompson is a good friend of mine. But the thing is that I had to go with my heart who I thought would be the best person to lead us into the next generation -- especially with the young people.”
For his part, Huckabee is thrilled to have Walker, Texas Ranger in his corner
“We had a lot of fun and put together an introductory spot that was the number one watched YouTube spot for a couple of days and really got a lot of attention,” he says.
Huckabee deftly sidesteps a Newsmax comparison of his own successes with that of fellow Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul. The Texas congressman, like Huckabee, is also doing well as an outside-the-pack candidate, getting attention and raising a lot of money online.
The easygoing, guitar-playing candidate simply refrains from rapping the competition. He wants to keep the formula positive and upbeat.
Not that his polite model has rubbed off on everyone else. As his poll numbers have climbed, so have the attacks. But Huckabee sees a silver lining in the vitriol:
“It’s almost as if that the more the negative attacks come from the other campaigns, the better our numbers get,” he said. “Not that I’m wishing upon myself more attacks,” he adds with a smile.
Nice guy Huckabee is a firm believer in Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: “Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” And that code of conduct applies even to a comment about his number one nemesis, Rudy Giuliani.
“I believe in Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment. Actually, I like Rudy and, you know, here’s why I like him. I disagree with him on several key issues, particularly the social issues."
Then Huckabee goes for the jugular in his easygoing manner.
“We’re not on the same page when it comes to the sanctity of life, the Second Amendment or same-sex marriage, but let me tell you what I admire him for . . .” Huckabee says, scoring big points with the religious right Republicans.
Huckabee admits his success has even surprised him and his campaign staff, and not just his Iowa success.
Huckabee notes that his campaign has built momentum in places like Texas, Florida, and South Carolina – places “where we shouldn’t even be in play.”
But in play he is, with poll rankings of second, second, and third, respectively, in those key states. And the reason for the good numbers is exactly what?
“Not because we have spent money,” he explains, “not because we got staff on the ground, not because we have run a minute’s worth of advertising, but purely on the strength of what mostly is happening in the blogosphere, people contacting people, the debates -- all of those things have an accumulative effect.”
Best Equipped to Battle the Clinton Machine
The candidate likes to point out that in Arkansas when he was sworn in as governor, only 11 out of 100 members of the state House were Republican. Furthermore, there were only four out of 35 senators who were Republican.
“I went into a legislature that was more lopsided than any other legislature in the country including Massachusetts,” Huckabee explains. “No governor faced a more overwhelming opposite-party legislature than I did and that legislature was heavily populated by people politically related to the Clintons.
“Bill and Hillary campaigned for every opponent that I have ever had,” he says, explaining how he took on the Clinton machine in Arkansas and beat them twice.
Huckabee notes that his unique advantage is that, in his opinion, nobody running for president knows the Clintons better -- and knows how their campaigns will be operated as well as he does.
“Believe me, the political machinery that they set up in Arkansas was the machinery against which I had to run every time I faced an opponent.”
Huckabee believes he can, and has, translated his Arkansas political savvy to the national stage.
“I think it’s really a matter of touching people at all parts of the spectrum. For example, I’m the first Republican in 119 years to get the endorsement of Machinist and Aerospace Worker’s Union. To be a Republican and get that endorsement at all is remarkable.
He even thinks he can tap into the African-American vote, citing CNN exit polls that showed he garnered 48 percent of the black vote in his re-election bid for governor.
Huckabee strongly maintains that he has the credentials to appeal to independent and disgusted and fed-up voters. He doesn’t have a Washington address; he’s not with the inside-the-Beltway crew and most importantly he is not part of what he sees as a highly discredited and unpopular set of lawmakers sitting atop Capitol Hill.
“Quite frankly this city isn’t just real popular out there in America right now, and if you see the polls you would say, well, boy, the president is not very popular. The only thing less popular is Congress right now.”
Huckabee does admit to one perhaps significant chink in his armor. Some might perceive him to be soft on illegal immigration.
He doesn’t think this is the case, however, and hopes that the rank and file voter will see that he simply wants to add a measure of fairness to the firmness.
“Some people want me to be a lot harsher [on immigration policy],” Huckabee explains.
“When I realized that there are kids [children of illegal immigrants] out there who are as good as me and they didn’t have a choice where they were born; they didn’t have a choice to whom they were born; then I have to ask myself do I really want to put my heel in their face no matter how hard they work?
“My soul won’t let me pander that issue any further than that and I’m not going to,” he says with determination.
Chuck Norris says that it’s Huckabee’s compassion for the children of illegals that is one of the factors that moved him to support his candidacy.
The actor teaches martial arts to Hispanic youngsters in Texas and sees any policy of blanket expulsion as counterproductive to the kids who are achieving the American dream through hard work and furthering their educations.
Norris says it’s all part of the complete Huckabee package.
“I really think that he’s a people’s president. I was always a people’s actor. Critics hated me. For 30 years all I got was negative press from the critics, but the people took to me and because of that I did 23 movies and 203 episodes of 'Walker Texas Ranger.'"
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