Here on the 13th Floor, we have, unsurprisingly, paid more attention to the state and local officials running for president than the Washington types. In that spirit, it's well worth noting a new poll in Iowa that shows former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee placing third in the Republican field, finishing just one point behind Rudy Giuliani (and further behind Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor).
Governing named Huckabee a Public Official of the Year in 2005 (a write-up I'm a little embarrassed to say I've seen included in Huckabee's media kit). Despite that kudo, I admit I haven't been expecting much from him as a presidential candidate. He's from a small state, has a funny name and isn't well-known. He didn't seem to have crafted much of a message that differentiated himself from the rest of the GOP pack. Weight loss alone isn't enough to sway many voters.
Having said that, I can see why primary voters or caucus-goers are giving him a better look. Huckabee is funny -- he's one of the best speakers in the field, especially off the cuff. He's likable and is a convincing example of a "compassionate conservative." He's against gay marriage and abortion, but he backed an ambitious program to expand health coverage to thousands more children.
It seems to me that for all the complaints about President Bush and the despair over his handling of the war in Iraq, Katrina and budgetary matters that has spread deep into Republican circles, the GOP primary electorate is searching for someone who stands more or less where the incumbent does on a lot of issues. That's what's behind the current "I'm the real Republican in the race" back and forth.
Each of the GOP frontrunners seems to have some personal flaw or break with party orthodoxy that makes him less than completely compelling to party supporters. Huckabee is still quite the longshot, but on paper -- and on the stump -- he would fit the bill for a lot of voters pretty nicely.
Whether he could "beat Hillary" is, of course, another matter entirely.