WORLD's Feb. 17 profile of Mike Huckabee ("The pastor populist") concluded that he "is far behind better-known Republican contenders-John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney-in the money race, but he insists that 'the message has to come before money.' . . . He's a long shot, but don't count him out."
Major religious right groups did count him out, and for a long time journalists did, too. Even a month ago it looked like his slow path upward in the polls would be too little, too late. During a show-me-the-money year in which "first tier" candidates have spent all four seasons dialing for dollars and staying at Four Seasons hotels, Huckabee has slept at places that have as their major come-on, "Cable Television in Every Room"-but he's out-joked his opponents on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and outpolled them at the Values Voter Summit in Washington.
Most significantly, Huckabee is getting a great press from national mediacrats hostile to many of his values: He's positioned for 2008 as John McCain was for 2000. Polls place him second in Iowa, behind only Mitt Romney, and The Washington Post declared last week that "Huckabee is for real . . . [he] could win the Republican nomination." The Post declared that a top-two finish in Iowa on Jan. 5 could lead to a solid showing in New Hampshire and a victory in South Carolina.
Religious right leaders who thus far have emphasized poll standings over potential may then be willing to follow their followers. So far 2007 has brought four seasons of evangelical discontent with candidates who looked like giants in January but now seem dwarfish: Grumpy and Sleepy would be good nicknames for some. Huckabee needs to answer hard questions on economic and foreign policy, but his soothing manner could hold up well against a shrill Hillary Clinton. Don't count him out.