Posted: December 11, 2007 5:01 PM
Huckabee Takes New Heat as He Rises in the Polls
Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s growing appeal with voters may reach beyond Iowa, something many political analysts have pondered in recent weeks.
A Mason-Dixon poll conducted last week now puts him at the front of the GOP field in South Carolina, winning 20 percent in a survey of likely primary voters. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani placed second with 17 percent. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney scored 15 percent followed by former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, 14 percent, and Arizona senator John McCain, 10 percent.
One month ago, Huckabee was running fifth in South Carolina polls. Campaigning in Greenville Saturday, Huckabee acknowledged the changes there — and in Iowa, where he moved to the top of the polls a week ago. “We’ve been on the stove simmering for about 11 months. Somehow in the last two weeks, the lid blew off and the pot started boiling.”
Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch McCain supporter, echoed that. He told reporters in Washington, “What you see nationally with Huckabee is [also] happening in South Carolina.”
Much like Iowa, Christian evangelicals represent a significant segment of the primary voters in South Carolina, about 50 percent. They make up some 30 percent of likely caucus-goers in Iowa. Huckabee is a former Baptist minister with strong ties to that community.
On the NewsHour Monday, Susan Page of “USA Today” told Margaret Warner that Huckabee’s rise had been dramatic. “This is really unprecedented. Republicans in modern times have generally given the nomination to the next person. They’ve been kind of an orderly party. We’ve never had someone come from as far back as Huckabee began and end up with the Republican nomination.”
But she also said he lacks the extensive support networks other candidates have to fall back on, which could hurt him as the race heats up. “He has come a long way, but he has a long way to go, and it gets tougher as you go up the chain of candidates.”
Time Magazine’s Jay Newton-Small told the NewsHour that Huckabee’s ties to the evangelical community could sustain him — if he manages to avoid a setback in New Hampshire, which holds its primary five days after Iowa. More socially liberal than Iowa or South Carolina, New Hampshire could prove a stumbling block for the former Arkansas governor because the state lacks the strong base of Christian conservative voters found in the other two states.
“If he does well in Iowa and can get past New Hampshire and stay strong, he’ll do well [in South Carolina],” Newton-Small said. Another southern state, Florida, also holds its primary in January.
Matt Rhoades, Romney’s communications director in South Carolina, acknowledged the sudden change in Huckabees’s stature, but said it was not all good news for Huckabee. He repeated a theme other Republican candidates have begun to sound in recent days — that Huckabee’s record should disqualify him with fiscal conservative voters. “Huckabee is leading in Iowa,” Roades told Washington Post columnist Dan Balz, “and with that lead comes much higher expectations and a greater degree of scrutiny of his weak position on immigration and his penchant for big spending and higher taxes.” Polls had shown Romney strongly favored to win Iowa until last week.
Huckabee has drawn criticism in recent days. On Sunday, he declined to amend a 1992 statement he’d made that opposed increased funding for AIDS research, but he denied he’d called for a quarantine of AIDS patients. In 1992, he said, “If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague.”
Over the weekend, he told Fox News Sunday, “Now, would I say things a little differently in 2007? Probably so. But I’m not going to recant or retract from the statement that I did make because, again, the point was not saying we ought to lock people up who have HIV/AIDS.”
By early this week, the new front-runner was back in Iowa campaigning as the Jan. 3 caucus nears.