Mike Huckabee is on a roll. Nationally, I just won my bet with Bill O’Reilly when he broke 10 percent in the latest CNN poll. And in Iowa, he is now running second. Mitt Romney is in the lead at 27 percent, according to the latest American Research survey, with Huckabee nipping at his heels at 19 percent. Rudy Giuliani is in third at 16. John McCain still has a residue of 14 percent support left, and Fred Thompson, fading fast, is down to 8 percent.
So Huckabee is within striking distance. When Perrier had to cope with the scandal about the alleged adulteration of its product, it was evident that all the beverage had going for it was its purity. It had no taste. Compromise its purity and it was sunk. Romney is in much the same situation. His candidacy is based on his being an alternative to Giuliani, conservative on social issues. But if his purity is compromised, he could be in trouble.
But Romney was once pro-life. Then he ran in Massachusetts and became pro-choice. Then he decided to run in the Republican primary for president and he became pro-life again. His flip-flop-flip may get him in big trouble in Iowa.
Rudy is, of course, pro-choice. McCain, rightly or wrongly, was criticized for hurting the social conservative movement by limiting its ability to spend money on its pet causes in the McCain-Feingold legislation. And Fred Thompson lobbied for a pro-choice abortion-rights group in the early 1990s and has been squishy on the issue ever since.
Huckabee could be vulnerable on his tax record in Arkansas, but his support for the Fair Tax likely wipes away that issue.
But Huckabee has no money. Yet, despite a total absence of advertising, he has risen steadily in Iowa from single digits to double digits to second place. Indeed, his lack of funding may be creating a reverse chic, attracting voters who are turned off by the massive hard sell of the other campaigns.
So what happens if Huckabee keeps rising and wins in Iowa? It likely sets up a three-way contest in New Hampshire, with Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani facing off against one another. Romney has the money. Rudy has the stardom. And Huckabee would have the momentum.
This all may be a pipe dream, but in a caucus state, where turnout is low and enthusiasm is at a premium, Huckabee’s demonstrated ability to generate passion among his followers would stand him in good stead.
Remember what happened in Ames, Iowa, where Romney won the straw poll based largely on his ability to write $35 checks to enroll his voters in the paid admission-only event. Huckabee finished a strong second with 18 percent of the vote even though his voters had to pay their own way. Huckabee said, “I can’t afford to buy you. I can’t even afford to rent you.”
And at the Values Convention, Romney once again papered the house with paid-for absentee voters who enrolled for $1 each and voted for Mitt. Huckabee, with no money, addressed the gathering and stirred such passion that he swept the votes of most who were there and finished second, again.
Right now Iowa looks like a Romney rout. But Huckabee could surprise everybody before the votes are counted.