Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said on Monday that his surging popularity was drawing attacks from opponents and money from supporters as new polls released on Monday showed him in a virtual tie nationally with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The folksy former Arkansas governor has vaulted from single-digit figures just a few short weeks ago to the lead spot in opinion polls in the crucial state of Iowa.
A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll put Huckabee nationally at second place. In it he had the backing of 22 percent of Republican voters, just behind Giuliani's 24 percent.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was at 16 percent followed by Sen. John McCain of Arizona at 12 percent
According to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll, Huckabee was the choice of 21 percent of Republicans compared with 22 percent in favor of Giuliani. Romney trailed with 16 percent. Arizona Sen. John McCain and Fred Thompson each had 7 percent in the Times/CBS survey.
"With the position in the polls comes a new level of attack," Huckabee told reporters ahead of a fund-raising event in Dallas in the heart of the evangelical Bible Belt where the ordained Baptist preacher draws much of his support.
Iowa begins the state-by-state battle to choose the Republican and Democratic candidates for the November 2008 presidential election on January 3.
As his poll standing has improved, the increased scrutiny of Huckabee's past by opponents and the media has included the revelation that in 1992 he said that AIDS patients should be isolated.
"I don't believe that we ought to be isolating AIDS patients today. That would be a policy that I wouldn't even entertain today," he said.
"In 1992 it was a different mood. (But) there's no point in me trying to say I didn't say that. Obviously I did say that," he said.
There was much fear and confusion during the early stages of the pandemic in America in the mid-1980s, but by 1992 it was well established that the HIV virus that causes AIDS was spread by sexual contact, blood transfusions or shared needles.
Huckabee said after months of running a shoe-string operation the poll numbers were also starting to help his campaign coffers.
"We raised more money in November than we had raised in the previous 10 months to November, combined," Huckabee said. While he did not give full details he said that online contributions alone in November were over $2 million.
Huckabee also said polls suggested that his support went beyond the Republican Party's conservative Christian base which until recently had yet to unite around a single candidate.
All of the Republican field with the exception of Giuliani has tried to woo this base by stridently opposing abortion and gay rights.
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