Huckabee Gaining Ground in Iowa

Mike Huckabee, who visited a Christian school in Ohio this week, has support from Christian conservatives in Iowa.
Mike Huckabee, who visited a Christian school in Ohio this week, has support from Christian conservatives in Iowa. (By David Kohl -- Associated Press)
SOURCE: Washington Post ABC News Poll | The Washington Post - November 21, 2007
By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 21, 2007; Page A01

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, buoyed by strong support from Christian conservatives, has surged past three of his better-known presidential rivals and is now challenging former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the lead in the Iowa Republican caucuses, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Huckabee has tripled his support in Iowa since late July, eclipsing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Huckabee now runs nearly evenly with Romney, the longtime Iowa front-runner.

Huckabee's rise from dark horse to contender in Iowa is one more unexpected twist in a race that has remained fluid throughout the year and adds another unpredictable element to the competition for the GOP nomination. His support in Iowa appears stronger and more enthusiastic than that of his rivals.

Still, there are other signs in the poll suggesting that Romney remains the candidate to beat in the state and that gains for Huckabee may be harder to achieve in the next 43 days than they were over the past four months.

Romney outperforms Huckabee and other Republicans on key attributes, with two notable exceptions -- perceptions of which candidate best understands people's problems and which candidate is the most honest and trustworthy. On both, Romney and Huckabee are tied. At the same time, Iowa Republicans see the former Arkansas governor as less credible than Romney, Giuliani or McCain on some top issues.

The poll found that overall, 28 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers support Romney, while 24 percent support Huckabee. Thompson ran third in the poll at 15 percent, with Giuliani at about the same level, with 13 percent. McCain, whose Iowa campaign appeared to derail earlier this year over his stance on immigration, had 6 percent and was tied with Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who rose from 2 percent in July.

Huckabee's gains were concentrated among the party's conservative core. He saw a 28-percentage-point jump in support from evangelical Protestants, to 44 percent, and a 19-point rise among conservatives, to 30 percent. Among previous caucus attendees, his support increased from 9 percent to 29 percent.

Huckabee probably benefited from the decision of Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and others to quit the race. Brownback and Huckabee had been competing for many of the same religious and conservative voters. Moreover, Huckabee's gain in this poll does not come at the expense of those still running, all of whom are faring about the same as they were in July.

But almost half of Huckabee's supporters (48 percent) said they would definitely vote for him in January and only a quarter said there was a good chance that they would change their minds before the caucuses. In contrast, just 29 percent of Romney's backers said they would definitely vote for him, while 42 percent said there was a good chance that they could vote for someone else at the caucuses.

The enthusiasm among Huckabee supporters was striking, particularly in a year in which Republicans have been considerably dissatisfied with the field of candidates. Half of those who now back the former Arkansas governor said they are very enthusiastic about him, compared with 28 percent of Romney's backers.

But despite these advantages, Huckabee's support comes almost exclusively from certain groups of voters. His challenge will be to expand his appeal.

Nearly seven in 10 of his backers are evangelical Protestants, and nearly three-quarters attend religious services at least weekly. Just 5 percent of moderate and liberal GOP voters back his candidacy. Romney, by contrast, has wider support.

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