Surging Huckabee Takes Lead in Iowa Over Romney

In July, Mike Huckabee had the support of 8 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers. By November, the number had increased to 24 percent.
In July, Mike Huckabee had the support of 8 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers. By November, the number had increased to 24 percent. (M. Spencer Green - AP)
By Jon Cohen and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer and Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2007

The race before Iowa's Republican caucuses has narrowed to a two-person contest between former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, with Huckabee now perched atop the field, propelled by a big jump in support among religious women.

The findings, from a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, show how dramatically the wide-open GOP contest has changed over the past few months. Huckabee's support in Iowa has quadrupled since the summer, while former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) have lost ground.

Immigration now stands as the top issue for the state's GOP voters. Many Republicans think voter anger about illegal immigration will be a flash point, not only in the race for their party's presidential nomination but also in the general election. The emergence of immigration as a major issue in Iowa, where three in 10 GOP voters call it a top concern, creates an early test of its political potency.

With two weeks to go before the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Huckabee registered the support of 35 percent of likely Republican caucusgoer, just above Romney, the longtime Iowa front-runner, at 27 percent. For the first time in Post-ABC Iowa polling, no other candidate registered in the double digits.

Thompson was backed by 9 percent, down from 15 percent a month ago, and Giuliani was the choice of 8 percent, down five percentage points. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) also won 8 percent support, followed by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) at 6 percent, Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) at 2 percent and Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) at 1 percent.

Huckabee's support in Iowa has risen on a steep curve. In a Post-ABC poll in late July, 8 percent of likely caucusgoers supported him, and last month his backing stood at 24 percent. His increase of 11 percentage points from November came despite a barrage of attacks from Romney and Thompson.

Republican women, particularly those who describe themselves as evangelicals and those who attend church regularly, are the primary force behind Huckabee's recent increases. Women now support him over Romney by an 18-point margin; men divide their votes about evenly between the two.

Over the past month, Huckabee's support among women has doubled, from 22 percent to 45 percent. Female voters have largely abandoned Thompson over the same period, with their support dropping from 14 percent to 3 percent.

The significant growth in Huckabee's support among women may be a sign that his style of social conservatism with a smile is resonating. Four in 10 women said the more they hear about the former Arkansas governor, the more they like him, more than double the proportion saying they like him less as they learn more.

A third of those polled said Huckabee best represents the core values of the Republican Party, whereas 25 percent said Romney does. Huckabee's advantage again stems from women: Fifty percent of women, but only 24 percent of men, said he is the GOP's best standard-bearer.

For all of Huckabee's progress, however, the poll shows a tight race with Romney, whose support has remained stable since the summer.

Romney maintains advantages among voters as the GOP's most electable candidate and the one with the best experience to be president. He also has more committed and more enthusiastic support than he did a month ago.

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