In an excellent op-ed article for the New York Times, Frank Rich contends that Huckabee's surge is attributable to an appeal that reaches beyond the Christian conservative vote:
COULD 2008 actually end up being a showdown between the author of “The Audacity of Hope” and the new Man from Hope, Ark.?Read the whole article...
It sounds preposterous, but Washington’s shock over Mike Huckabee’s sudden rise in the polls — he “came from nowhere,” Robert Novak huffed last week — makes you wonder. Having failed to anticipate so much else, including the Barack Obama polling surge of days earlier, the press pack has proved an unreliable guide to election 2008. What the Beltway calls unthinkable today keeps turning out to be front-page news tomorrow.
The prevailing Huckabee narrative maintains that he’s benefiting strictly from the loyalty of the religious right. Evangelical Christians are belatedly rallying around one of their own, a Baptist preacher, rather than settling for a Mormon who until recently supported abortion rights or a thrice-married New Yorker who still does. But that doesn’t explain Mr. Huckabee’s abrupt ascent to first place in some polling nationwide, where Christian conservatives account for a far smaller slice of the Republican pie than in Iowa. Indeed, this theory doesn’t entirely explain Mr. Huckabee’s steep rise in Iowa, where Mitt Romney has outspent him 20 to 1, a financial advantage that Mr. Romney leveraged to crush him in the state’s straw poll just four months ago.
What really may be going on here is a mirror image of the phenomenon that has upended Hillary Clinton’s “inevitability” among Democrats. Like Senator Obama, Mr. Huckabee is the youngest in his party’s field. (At 52, he’s also younger than every Democratic contender except Mr. Obama, who is 46.) Both men have a history of speaking across party and racial lines. Both men possess that rarest of commodities in American public life: wit. Most important, both men aspire (not always successfully) to avoid the hyper-partisanship of the Clinton-Bush era.
The fact to remember about Mr. Huckabee’s polling spike is that it occurred just after the G.O.P. YouTube debate on CNN, where Mr. Romney and Rudy Giuliani vied to spray the most spittle at illegal immigrants. Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, the fringe candidate whose most recent ads accuse the invading hordes of “pushing drugs, raping kids, destroying lives,” accurately accused his opponents of trying to “out-Tancredo Tancredo.”
Next to this mean-spiritedness, Mr. Huckabee’s tone leapt off the screen. Attacked by Mr. Romney for supporting an Arkansas program aiding the children of illegal immigrants, he replied, “In all due respect, we’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.” It was a winning moment, politically as well as morally. And a no-brainer at that. Given that Mr. Tancredo polls at 4 percent among Iowan Republicans and zero nationally, it’s hard to see why Rudy-Romney thought it was smart to try to out-Tancredo Tancredo.
The real reason for Mr. Huckabee’s ascendance may be that his message is simply more uplifting — and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian — than that of rivals whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o’clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia favored by the entire G.O.P. field with the sometime exception of John McCain.