Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mike Huckabee's Coming On Strong

As I noted in my earlier post on the YouTube GOP debate, Mike Huckabee's looking better all the time.

His outstanding debate performance last night is going to boost his campaign in Iowa, where's he's already stirring up the pot.
The Wall Street Journal has the background on Huckabee's rise in the Hawkeye State:

The Republican presidential race is becoming even more unstable, as a surging Mike Huckabee has caught up in Iowa with Mitt Romney, long seen as the front-runner in the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The rise of Mr. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, can be pinned to his conservative positions on social issues including abortion, guns and gay marriage. The point was driven home yesterday as he won the endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and son of the late Jerry Falwell. Voters also say they are attracted to Mr. Huckabee's personal style and character, calling him more genuine and affable than his rivals.

Many Republican voters have yet to be persuaded by better-funded and better-organized candidates such as former Massachusetts Gov. Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Still, Mr. Huckabee remains a long way from wrapping up a victory in the Jan. 3 caucuses and using that as a catapult for a serious run at the nomination. He will have to translate recent momentum into an organization that can drive supporters to more than 1,700 caucus sites. With his shoestring staff, that will be a challenge.
Will Huckabee's performance last night reduce that challenge a bit? Here's Chuck Todd's analysis, from MSNBC:

Big night for Mike Huckabee. On a night when many voters were looking at him in a different light thanks to the dramatic increase in attention the media's been giving him, he delivered big time. Unlike previous debates, he didn't open with a joke but instead sounded very presidential in his first answer; He had his share of one-liners, but he seemed to balance the funny with more presidential rhetoric.

Huckabee stepped up his game tonight. The rest of the field better be glad that the GOP debates end on Dec. 12, a full three weeks before the Iowa caucuses and that's enough time for his potentially dominant debate performances to fade from voter memories. Surprisingly, he didn't get attacked too much. Romney took a shot, but nothing too harsh (Iowa nice, right?). Most importantly for Huckabee, he'll likely be declared the winner of this debate by every member of the Amtrak Corridor media elite and that should get him some serious buzz. The question for the rest of the field: when will others begin to take him as a more serious threat.
David Yepsen, of the Des Moines Register, says Huckabee got a boost from his performance:

Huckabee has come out of single digits to play in the big leagues of this campaign, and his good-natured performance Wednesday shows he can swing an oratorical bat with the best of them.

While other candidates fumbled around when dealing with biblical questions, Huckabee's background as a Baptist minister came in handy when he said that there are some things in the Bible no one can understand, so it's more important to follow the things that are understandable.
Huckabee also fended off an attack from Romney over Huckabee's plan to provide in-state tuition for children of undocumented workers in Arkansas.

Huckabee shot back that he worked his way through school and that the nation shouldn't punish children for what their parents did. "We're a better country than that," he said.

McCain criticized Huckabee's support for a national retail sales tax to replace the income tax, a proposal supporters call the Fair Tax. Huckabee observed later something his minister once told him: "When they are kicking you in the rear, it's just proves you are out front."

Later, when one questioner asked what Jesus would do about the death penalty, Huckabee said, "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, that's what Jesus would do."

When Giuliani was asked about whether he believed every word in the Bible, Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, good-naturedly asked him, "Do I need to help you out?"

Later, when asked if he'd accept help from a gay group called the Log Cabin Republicans, Huckabee said, "I need the support of anybody and everybody I can get."

Huckabee is rapidly becoming the hot story in the 2008 presidential campaign. After Wednesday night, he's likely to get a whole lot hotter.
Yepson also claims John McCain won the debate. Yepson, does not, however, speculate as to whether McCain's performance will help his flagging campaign.

I like McCain, but I'm not optimistic on his chances. I've been looking a bit at the other candidates to see who I'm going to support in the California primary. Rudy Giuliani's lackluster performance last night has made my search a little more urgent (my thinking so far is that I'd support Giuliani after McCain, but I'm no so sure at this point).


UPDATE: See also John McIntyre at RealClearPolitics:

The GOP race is usually characterized as either a two-person contest (Giuliani vs. Romney) or a wide open field among the five viable candidates (Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, Huckabee and McCain). However, what we are fast approaching is a three-man race between Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani.
McIntyre notes further:

What we have developing is Huckabee stepping in and filling the void in the GOP field that was available to Thompson in the summer - a void that his inept campaign has been unable to fill. So perhaps instead of the Tennessean sinking the Romney campaign it could very well be the Arkansan.
I'll have more commentary on Huckabee's rise as things develop.