TAMPA, Fla., Nov. 21, 2007 — -- Propelled by little more than his message and political skills, Republican presidential contender former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has vaulted into a statistical dead heat for first place in crucial, first-in-the-nation caucus state Iowa, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Huckabee's surge is equal parts size and intensity, having gained considerable ground among key parts of the GOP base in the Hawkeye state — evangelicals, conservatives, weekly churchgoers and abortion opponents — with 50 percent of his supporters "very enthusiastic" about him, compared with 28 percent of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's supporters.
The affable underdog achieved all this on a shoestring budget with little national infrastructure and close to no support from the Republican establishment.
"The people of Iowa are pretty savvy when it comes to politics," Huckabee told ABC News in an interview. "They are folks who, you know, they auction their cattle, but not their presidential candidates. And so just because somebody's gone in there and spent a bunch of money doesn't necessarily mean the people of Iowa say, 'He's my guy.'"
Huckabee, who placed second in the Iowa Straw Poll in August, suggested that for the last "11 months, everybody's been writing my political obituary each month, saying, 'He can't go on, he can't go on, he doesn't have enough money.' And here I am, tied. I mean, that's not supposed to happen. But it's happening because Americans are electing a president, not somebody who's going to head the fundraising for the United Way."
He insisted that with a successful showing in Iowa Jan. 3, he would have sufficient staff "from the momentum of Iowa, through the next few states, in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Michigan and Nevada" to win the nomination.
"People forget that presidential campaigns are … if they're anything, about momentum," Huckabee said. "And if you have momentum, you'll get the money. You can have money, but if you don't have any momentum, then you'll end up like President Phil Gramm or President Ross Perot or President Steve Forbes."
Huckabee's hurdle today remains the same one he faced last week when despite his more ardent opposition to legal abortion he lost the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee to former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson: Few Americans are convinced he can actually win the White House.
In fact, only 42 percent of Huckabee's supporters in Iowa think he's going to be elected president.
"That's the hurdle I've had since the beginning, and it's also the one that's being erased by every month's standings getting better," Huckabee said. This kind of poll gives more people reason to think, 'Hmm, the guy could win.'"
In 1979, Huckabee says, Ronald Reagan was in fourth place in polls. "He was flat broke. They were living three to a hotel room, eating peanut butter, and nobody thought he had a chance. He had upset the Republican establishment. He certainly wasn't their candidate, and it looked like that he wasn't going anywhere. Now people talk about, 'Oh, the inevitable Ronald Reagan' — but that's not what was going on back at this particular point in time."