THE NOTE: Trading Places

Among the Republicans, with the week (if not the rest of the race) set to be shaped by former governor Mitt Romney's Thursday speech on religion, he's busily downplaying expectations. He's saying that his address will be less about his Mormon faith and more about how "faith has disappeared in many respects from the public square," ABC's Matt Stuart reports. Romney: "I want to make sure we maintain our religious heritage in this country."

This highlights how difficult this speech will be to nail.

Do the evangelicals who are skeptical about his Mormon faith really need to be told that there's not enough religion in public life?

To the extent that Romney talks about his own religion, will Protestants and Catholics accept him as a fellow Christians?

And will Mormons accuse him of glossing over the details of his faith?

"In a press conference outlining his speech, Romney quoted the New Testament, and spoke about the founding fathers, but never used the words Mormon or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson reports. "He said if people want to learn more about his religion, they can look on the Internet."

It's "a gamble that may not be a win with either supporters or opponents," Lisa Riley Roche writes in the Deseret Morning News. It's late, it's dangerous, it's provocative. "It's probably the epitome of a high-stakes moment in a campaign," says Romney supporter Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

The only reason this is happening now is because of a certain former governor of Arkansas, who now has national poll numbers to back up his Iowa rise.

Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., has slipped into second place in the USA Today/Gallup Poll: It's Giuliani 25, Huckabee 16, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., at 15.

"He's the best politician in the land," Dean Barnett writes in The Weekly Standard. "Right now, the Huckabee campaign is in the best shape. All of the other campaigns would gladly trade places with Huckabee." (Point taken, but we're not so sure of that . . .)

Huckabee -- finally back in Iowa after an inexplicable spell away from the action -- was profiled Monday night on ABC's "Nightline."

"Something seemed to click here for Huckabee, even in the past few days," John Donvan writes. "The ultimate compliment might be the 'welcome-to-the-big-league' attacks Huckabee's ideas are now drawing -- finally -- from the other candidates in the race who had previously mostly ignored him."

But polls (and even attacks) don't buy a ground game. "Huckabee is employing an unprecedented and risky strategy to win the caucuses here: a campaign with almost no on-the-ground operation," Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post. "Without the money to hire field organizers around the state to ensure that voters will turn out, the campaign is instead relying on a network of pastors, parents who home-school their children, and other Christian conservatives."

And Huckabee is just starting to come in for his close-up.

Last week, he said that God is helping him in the polls, according to the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, who paraphrased him as saying "that Divine providence was responsible for his recent surge." (Who knew He had a land line? Isn't He busy helping wide receivers score touchdowns this time of year? And who's the one who has to explain his religion to voters again?)

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