A slew of new polls have confirmed that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Iowa surge has catapulted him to the lead in the GOP caucuses. He shows movement in other state and national polling as well, though not in New Hampshire.
The Huckabee boomlet has been stunningly swift, even surprising those who say they saw it coming many weeks ago.
The source of Huckabee’s appeal to conservative and evangelical Republicans is pretty simple. He’s not a flip-flopping Mormon or a pro-abortion-rights, pro-gay-rights, pro-gun-control adulterer. And he’s never put his name on a bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) or Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), or lambasted the Christian right.
In a sense, Huckabee is the second coming of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who now seems about as relevant as a typewriter at a bloggers’ convention.
Thompson, of course, was conservatives’ first great hope of keeping the Republican Party on a course set out by Ronald Reagan more than a quarter century ago. If you recall, he was going to be the “new Reagan.”
Thompson shot up in the polls even before Republican voters had given him a good look. They didn’t know much about him other than he filled a role they wanted filled.
When the real Thompson seemed less energetic and appealing than the imagined Thompson, Republicans fell out of love with him. They were still looking for someone not named Giuliani, Romney or McCain when they found Huckabee, a quirky (diet-
conscious former pastor) Southerner who talks in a conversational style, emphasizes conservatism and common sense, and seems to lack the flaws other Republicans have.
Huckabee always looked like the conservative alternative, and he is now filling that role. His strength in Iowa and South Carolina, but not New Hampshire, suggests that he is appealing to social conservatives in general and evangelicals in particular.
But let’s be clear about Huckabee’s support: While he has surged primarily because he
isn’t one of the other guys, he’s in a far stronger position than Thompson was when the Tennessean was riding his wave.
Thompson was rising in the polls when he was merely an idea and hadn’t spent a day on the stump as an active candidate. Huckabee has been in Iowa for months, finishing second in the state’s straw poll and participating in a seemingly endless number of televised debates.
Iowans have seen Huckabee and been impressed by his debate performances and down-to-earth style and message. So, unlike Thompson, Huckabee has some definition and voters have warmed to him over the months.