What's going on with Mike Huckabee?
With little resources, and with a GOP presidential candidacy hovering in obscurity through the summer, the former Arkansas governor is now running in a dead heat with Mitt Romney in the lead in Iowa.
The former Massachusetts governor's spending in Iowa has been 10 times greater than Huckabee's and, until this week, Huckabee had not run a single ad (versus Romney, whose ads have already run over 5,000 times).
In various national polls, Huckabee is coming in a solid third behind former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
The Washington Post's David Broder provides one hint about the fuel that might be propelling Huckabee. He says that, according to veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart, the attributes that are pushing voters' buttons this year are "transparency, authenticity and unity."
A just-released The Economist/YouGov poll shows Huckabee doing well in these areas. Republican voters rate him first in both honesty and morality.
The long campaign and the plethora of pre-primary televised debates have been helpful to Huckabee, whose appeal has come through to voters, but who has not had a lot of resources for his own marketing. He has come off as genuine and not like a candidate, in Huckabee's words, "who's sort of the culmination of a room full of consultants."
There is little question that on social issues that Huckabee, a Baptist minister, is the real deal. This is playing well among Iowa Republicans, a third of whom are evangelicals and 70 percent of whom are conservatives.
But what about the rap against him that he is a populist with little regard for traditional Republican proclivities for unfettered markets and limited government?
He's been accused by the Club for Growth of "big-government liberalism" and called by conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg a "statist."
There's some justification, of course, to these labels. Huckabee invites them when he expresses reservations about free trade, which he does, when he talks about energy independence, which he does, and when he endorses ideas such as a nationally mandated ban on smoking in public places.
But there are important strains in what Huckabee is about that defy simple labels, and in this sense these accusations and generalizations are not legitimate.
When Huckabee says that "strong families are the foundation of a strong country," he means this. This is not a Hillary Rodham Clinton-like political throw-away line.
The traditional-values agenda is as much an economic initiative as anything else.