Huckabee’s appeal is lost on many fiscal conservatives and his record as Arkansas Governor seems an improbable roadmap for the GOP seeking to get back its reputation for budgetary frugality. However, Huckabee is rising in national polls and in Iowa so something more than media hype may be afoot. I asked Joe Carter, an evangelical blogger at evangelicaloutpost.com and the Director of web communications for the FRC, to explain Huckabee’s appeal. Carter has endorsed Huckabee but that endorsement and his comments, he emphasizes, reflect his own views and not those of the FRC. Carter is convinced that Huckabee is on the upswing, especially in Iowa where his numbers have continued to rise, suggesting to Carter that he’ll pass McCain, Rudy and Thompson — and maybe close the gap with Romney. He contends: “Romney’s money can buy him name recognition, but I think that he’s hit the ceiling. On the other hand, Huckabee’s buzz is continuing to grow, especially among people who attend church frequently. Huckabee may not have money but he has charisma. In Iowa, I’d take charm over cash.” According to Carter, the movement to Huckabee among religious conservatives in Iowa is gaining steam: “The mobilization efforts of the churches and parachurch groups have really just begun.” Carter explains the in person impression Huckabee makes which caucus voters, who spend more time with candidates than most voters, may experience : ” That is why the stump speech is so important. And on that crucial metric, Huckabee dominates every candidate in the race (including Obama). He’s a gifted orator who can speak knowledgeably without relying on a teleprompter. He’s quick-witted, earnest, and likable. The only other politician I’ve seen that can connect with an audience in the same way is Bill Clinton.” Both Romney and Thompson have courted religious conservatives nationally and in Iowa but Carter has not been impressed. He says: “In contrast, Romney comes off as scripted and business-like. He gives the sense of being a well-paid CEO speaking to shareholders rather than a struggling candidate seeking the approval of voters. He also appears to have a peculiar ideological flexibility.” As for Thompson he says he had been an “ardent supporter” but no longer, explaining : ” His speaking style is painful to watch. (He should have spent the months before he got into the race hanging out at Toastmasters.) He’s also ill-prepared and too concerned about doing it ‘his way.'” He continues: ” Maybe he’s just an actor who’s playing the part of a lazy candidate.” Will evangelical leaders begin to endorse Huckabee? Carter believes that many will do in the next month or so since their constituents are gravitating toward Huckabee but notes that “these leaders are often attached to non-profits that .. cannot officially endorse candidates.”
Now Carter is clearly a Huckabee fan and both Thompson and Romney have their share of support in Iowa and nationally among evangelicals. However, he does suggest that Huckabee may continue to make inroads with voters who read Carter and other evangelical media and that Huckabee’s progress may make it increasingly difficult for Romney and Thompson to secure further support from social conservative leaders. So as improbable as Huckabee’s candidacy may be to many, he may make a difference in Iowa and elsewhere. And some seem to agree.