Huckabee hopes rise in Iowa
Top Iowa Republicans say Mike Huckabee has entered the “can-win” class of presidential nomination hopefuls — at least for the moment.
The former Arkansas governor is within six points of Mitt Romney in a new poll of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers and has the potential to inspire many of Iowa’s churchgoers to leave the pews to pound the neighborhood block on his behalf, they say.
“I would not be surprised if he comes in second or possibly wins the caucuses here, especially since Sam Brownback has dropped out,” said former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
Iowa Republican Party Executive Director Chuck Laudner agreed but said the “million-dollar question” will become how to convert success in the Jan. 3 caucus to a sustained run for the nomination.
Despite his second-place showing in the latest CBS/New York Times poll, Mr. Huckabee continues to lag other top-tier hopefuls in the crucial categories of organization and fundraising.
The Nov. 2-12 poll’s leader, Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, landed 27 percent, followed by Mr. Huckabee at 21 percent, within the poll’s five-percentage-point margin of error. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was at 15 percent, and former Tennessee Gov. Fred Thompson was at 9 percent. Both Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas were at 4 percent.
Mr. Laudner said that Iowans are looking to rally around a candidate and that Mr. Romney appears to have peaked.
He said Mr. Romney’s “fullcourt press” in the state has produced support “in the 30 percent range, and if he hasn’t corralled caucusgoers after several months on the ground, they aren’t likely to move there now.”
Mr. Romney’s campaign says in effect that the Huckabee train will stay in Iowa, regardless of who places first in January.
“Mike Huckabee has a long record of wrong ideas and actions on everything from higher taxes to lax enforcement of immigration laws,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
“Once Republicans get past the one-liners, they won’t be laughing anymore. There is nothing funny about the massive tax hikes he has shown a fondness for in Arkansas.”
Mr. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has been popular with other evangelical leaders and activists, is now seeing endorsements come his way from fellow Southern Baptist leaders. Some supporters complain that the press has ignored the trend.
Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation in Texas, said: “The truth is, unknown to many in the media, that the Southern Baptist leaders just came out firmly for Mike.”
They include, he said, former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention Jack Graham, Jerry Vines and James Draper.
“Everyone knows which of the top candidates is unquestionably strongest on the pro-life, pro-family issues,” said Mr. Shackelford, whose group is the a Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family. “It’s Huckabee, and it’s not even close. The only excuse had been electability. With Mike’s current numbers in the polls, that excuse is gone.”
New Hampshire, historically the first presidential primary in an election cycle, is still a problem for Mr. Huckabee. A separate CBSNew York Times Nov. 9-12 poll found him fifth, with 6 percent, behind Mr. Romney at 34 percent, Mr. McCain and Mr. Giuliani with 16 percent each, and Mr. Paul at 8 percent.
Kevin Harberts, left, president of Iowa Metal Spinners, gave a tour of his factory to Republican presidential hopeful former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee earlier this month in Cedar Falls, Iowa.