Mike Huckabee: A Cinderella Story?

Mike Huckabee's campaign this past August: A skeleton staff, an empty bank account, an asterisk in the polls.

"I've said from the very beginning this is much more the marathon than the sprint," he said then.

Mike Huckabee now: Surging in the polls in Iowa and South Carolina, drawing the big crowds, the media mob.

Why? In good measure, it's because of who he is: an easygoing, bass-playing public figure with a plain-spoken, often humorous eloquence - it's made him a consistent debate standout, CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports.

When asked if Jesus would favor the death penalty at the last GOP debate, Huckabee responded, "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office."

It's also because many social conservatives - a key element in the Republican coalition - are supporting Huckabee, rather than throwing their support from a less conservative, more "electable" candidate. That argument that blew the roof off the influential Family Research Council.

"Our party may be important but our principles are more important than anybody's political party," Huckabee said at the group's summit in October.

But Mike Huckabee's rise is also rooted in something else: the inability of any candidate to unite the social and economic conservatives the way Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did.

"Huckabee is benefiting from a dynamic on the Republican side of every shoe being either too tight, too wide, too narrow - not just right for the Republican primary voters," said CBS News political analyst and former Bush aide Nicolle Wallace.

With no one candidate satisfying both the tax-cutting, small-government wing, and the traditional values wing, Huckabee has found enough passionate partisans to make him a contender.

And with it, naturally, has come increased scrutiny.

As governor, the Arkansas Finance Department says, Huckabee's tax hikes outweighed cuts by some half a billion dollars. He's been called soft on immigration for supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. His national-security credentials were questioned after he told reporters he hadn't heard about the new Iran intelligence estimate. And he's being pressed hard on what he did to encourage parole for a rapist who later raped and murdered.

"The next 10, 20, 30 days, he's going to have to show not only if he can answer the attacks, but can he stand back up and throw some punches," Wallace said.
  • Jeff Greenfield

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