Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee have a few things in common. Both hail from Hope, Ark. They also both served multiple terms as their home state's governor and demonstrate compassion for those who suffer. And, like Clinton in his first presidential bid, Huckabee is a relative unknown 13 months before Election Day.
Huckabee has managed to escape obscurity in recent months with better polling and charismatic debate performances. His natural constituency is social conservatives who loved his fiery speech at the Values Voters Summit last weekend. But he faces two difficult hurdles: fundraising and the GOP establishment.
First, let's look at the good news for Huckabee.
Recent polls in Iowa have him running a solid third and in a statistical tie for second. He is the only Republican candidate with a positive trend in Iowa.
Huckabee has already surprised in Iowa. He surged to second place in an August straw poll, despite having precious few dollars to spend on the event. The real Iowa caucus has been moved up to Jan. 3 -- a month before the delegate-rich Tsunami Tuesday on Feb. 5. I expect Huckabee to do poorly in New Hampshire -- the date for that primary remains unknown -- but a win or strong second in Iowa could help him in South Carolina's primary on Jan. 19, as well as in other Southern states.
Victories in the South require the help of evangelicals. Huckabee had the strong performance at the Values Voters Summit that one would expect from a Baptist minister. He easily was the favorite among those who voted in person in the event's straw poll, and he won 50% of all votes (Mitt Romney won the overall poll with an organized online voting presence).
After the summit, a group of 60 evangelical leaders met to consider their support for a candidate, according to
The New York Times
. Some say their fallback option is Romney or Fred Thompson, but a prominent evangelical, Dr. Don Wilton, withdrew his support for Romney this week.
This could signal movement toward Huckabee. Others, such as Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, decided to support Huckabee.
Another positive sign for Huckabee was the withdrawal of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a major pro-family candidate. If Huckabee can capture some momentum from endorsements out of the summit, he might be able to overcome his negatives.
Huckabee faces several major barriers to electoral success in addition to his slow start with evangelicals. A good candidate needs to be able to raise money to get out his or her message. Huckabee has struggled to find funds.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he had $3 million through the end of the third quarter with $650,000 in cash on hand. He has some corporate support from Arkansas companies, including
. Other donors include
His campaign has made a recent push for funds. Huckabee's Web site reports he has already collected about $365,000 in the first few weeks of October, which is ahead of his goal. But he will need much more money to advertise in early primary states.
Huckabee's financial woes in part stem from a lack of support from the Republican establishment. His campaign has been criticized for its lack of policy proposals.
His best-known public policy position is his support for the
Fair Tax proposal. The Fair Tax plan would end all income, payroll and investment taxes in favor of a national, regressive retail sales tax. Supporters say it favors growth because it taxes consumption, not production.
Huckabee's biggest opposition has come from another group advocating for tax reform: the Club for Growth. The club has created a Web site --
taxhikemike.org -- to attack Huckabee and his alleged record of raising taxes while governor of Arkansas. It even ran an attack ad against Huckabee before the Iowa straw poll. Other attacks are based on his support for No Child Left Behind and his support from unions. You can see a video on the latter below.
It will be a tough road for Huckabee. But if he can continue to pick up steam with evangelicals, in both dollars and endorsements, in the next two months, he may become a dangerous candidate come January and beyond.