Several things have come together for Mike Huckabee recently. National Journal is giving him a bump. He picks up some good staff in New Hampshire. He gets called one of the two options for Evangelicals (although McCain is getting some attention).
For Huckabee, there are two or three issues. First, can he perform in Iowa? The argument that Huckabee can succeed in Iowa — here succeed means, probably, a top-3 finish — works like this. Huckabee is a great speaker. He was a pastor and knows how to connect to his audience. The most Republican part of Iowa is out West and Protestant. (this is important because the eastern part of Catholic but more Democratic… The Republicans here would seem like natural Brownback stomping ground) Huckabee should be able to mobilize voters, and, as I’ve argued, there is no shortage of conservative voters in Iowa. If Iowa social conservatives vote on that issue alone, then Huckabee would be my pick for top-performing "conservative" candidate.
But there is more to Mike Huckabee. The really interesting question will be whether social conservative issues and personality will be enough for Huckabee. The Club for Growth will really unload on Huckabee. You see, while Huckabee has a strong social conservative record, he has said that some people who oppose comprehensive immigration reform are "driven by just sheer racism". Jennifer Rubin has a great summary of how Huckabee’s conservative credentials will be criticized:
By the end of his second term he had raised sales taxes 37 percent, fuel taxes 16 percent, and cigarettes taxes 103 percent, leading to a jump in total tax revenues from $3.9 billion to $6.8 billion. The Cato Institute gave him a failing grade of “F” on its fiscal report card for 2006 and an only marginally better but still embarrassing “D” for his entire term. Both as a governor and now as a presidential candidate Huckabee has declined to sign a “no tax” pledge. Recalling that Huckabee has said that he would only raise taxes if his arm were twisted, Grover Norquist of ATR responded: “He has a history of allowing his arm to be twisted and twisting other’s arms.”
The real question is: who will start explaining this to Iowa voters? One of Sam Brownback’s exploratory committee members is an Iowa grassroots anti-tax guy. You can bet that emails will start circulating about Huckabee’s record on these kinds of issues, just as they have come from Jerry Zandstra, a member of Brownback’s exploratory committee in Michigan. Even more than Romney, Huckabee might be vulnerable to an attempt to define him early on taxes and immigration (and perhaps other issues).
Huckabee’s advantage, in comparison to Romney, is that everyone wants to define and attack Romney. Furthermore, there are not hometown newspapers like the Boston Globe and Boston Herald who will be prepared to cut up Huckabee. In some ways, Sam Brownback will be the only candidate with a strong incentive to go after Huckabee. And, as noted above, he may just have the infrastructure to do it.