THE NOTE: Mitt's Mormon Gamble

The speech has been on the shelf so long that the Romney campaign now has three Big Problems, not two: his religion, his flip-flops, and Mike Huckabee -- whose rise is tied closely to those first two items.

Huckabee is finally capitalizing on the surge of interest in his candidacy. Romney's announcement Sunday that The Speech is forthcoming came on the very day that the Des Moines Register poll had Huckabee atop the GOP field in Iowa.

It's Huckabee 29, Romney 24, Giuliani 13.

"The former Arkansas governor is making the most of a low-budget campaign by tapping into the support of Iowa's social conservatives," the Register's Jonathan Roos writes.

It's "the first time in this campaign that a candidate has emerged from the second tier of contenders to challenge the front-runners," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

"Mr. Huckabee's gains are powered by support he has among Christian conservatives, who have had friction with Mormons. They appear to be responding to his message that he is the true social conservative in the race despite criticism that as governor he raised taxes and was not tough enough on illegal immigrants."

It will inevitably be called Romney's "JFK" speech -- and in case reporters need more historical ties between the last Bay Stater to reach the White House and the current aspirant, Romney's choice of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M puts him within easy driving distance of Houston, where Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy gave his speech in September 1960.

But the comparisons are imprecise. ABC's Jake Tapper: "If Kennedy's experience is any guide, one speech will not put the issue to rest. Historical amnesia aside, Kennedy's speech in Houston was not his first big public attempt to address and end discussion of the issue of his faith -- far from it. Nor was not the end of the matter, either."

Tapper adds that "for Romney, there are pitfalls that Kennedy did not have. The Catholic vote in the U.S. was and is a significant voting bloc," while Mormons represent about 2 percent of the population.

The timing means Romney has lost the clear shot he might have once had, if he delivered the speech as the far-and-away frontrunner in Iowa and New Hampshire. The American Spectator's Jennifer Rubin recalls that it was just Nov. 12 when Romney said there was "no particular urgency [to deliver The Speech] because I'm making progress in the states where I'm campaigning."

The only thing that's changed since then is Huckabee's emergence: "The Speech gives a shot to deflect the press from the 'Romney collapse/Huckabee surge' storyline," Rubin writes. "However, The Speech seems a huge gamble-- risking stirring up the hornet's nest of concern and sending commentators into a new round of discussion of whether Evangelicals will support a Mormon."

Among the Democrats, if this is Clinton's "fun part" -- well, let's just say we all have our own definitions of fun, senator. "I have been for months on the receiving end of rather consistent attacks -- but now the fun part starts," Clinton, D-N.Y., said on Sunday, per ABC's Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller said.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., plays fun police: "This presidential campaign isn't about attacking people for fun." And the Obama campaign is already up with a new Website to chronicle and respond to the attacks.

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