Most of the attention in the GOP presidential race has been focused on front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, but Mike Huckabee has risen to the top of the second-tier candidates and now has what one political observer calls “the potential to surprise” in New Hampshire.
Huckabee’s success is making waves because he has spent little on advertising, has limited campaign resources, and was a relatively unknown name before entering the presidential race.
Now, Sen. Sam Brownback’s recent withdrawal from the Republican race has given Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, “a clearer path to court religious voters,” columnist Scot Lehigh notes in the Boston Globe. But Huckabee seems to appeal beyond religious voters.
Political guru Dick Morris tells Newsmax that Huckabee “represents a new phenomenon in politics, a genuinely spiritual and creative person who wants to find new ways to inject a spiritual perspective into policy.”
Morris notes that while Huckabee is “pro life and anti-gay marriage and all the rest” that appeals to GOP social voters, he can’t easily be put in a box.
“He wants to expand the purview of a spiritual influence on policy to other spheres,” Morris said. “For example, rehabilitation of prisoners, opposing childhood obesity, conserving the planet God gave us, teaching the arts in schools to enhance our divine creativity. He is a unique candidate with an appeal that transcends normal political boundaries and is catching on. And, in a world of bought-and-paid-for politics, he has little money but lots of popularity.”
Huckabee’s is beginning to show.
Last weekend, Huckabee finished a close second in the values voter online straw poll conducted during the Family Research Council’s conference in Washington, D.C. But among the 952 people who actually attended the conference, Huckabee won in a landslide, garnering 51 percent of the votes, while Romney got just 10 percent and Giuliani, 6 percent.
A recent Rasmussen poll had Huckabee tied for second with Fred Thompson in Iowa, not far behind Romney.
And Huckabee last week got a boost from a favorable column by David Brooks, The New York Times’ influential conservative.
The former Arkansas governor is “down to earth and likable; he’s also an engaging speaker, both smart and funny,” Lehigh writes. “To my eye, both he and Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, have the potential to surprise in the Granite State.”
Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post has also come to admire Huckabee. In his "The Fix" blog, he writes: “Watch him in a debate or travel with him to a series of stump speeches and you see a candidate with real star potential.”
But while voters “may like Huckabee more than they like the rest of the field,” Cillizza notes, “they still don’t seem to think he can win.”
On that front, Ed Failor Jr., a prominent Iowa GOP activist who has not committed to any Republican candidate, told Cillizza: “If all the people who I talk to who say ‘I’d be for Huckabee if I thought he could win’ would actually be for him, he could win Iowa.”
Huckabee believes the U.S. should persevere in Iraq and supports a tax on consumption rather than income — the so-called Fair Tax. “It’s a big idea, and one that will come under scrutiny if his candidacy grows," Lehigh said, concluding: “In a field where the leading candidates have thus far proved unpalatable or unconvincing to the Republican base, Huckabee is a true believer, a committed, consistent conservative. Now that he’s outrun his second-tier rivals, don’t be surprised to see his candidacy take off.”
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