Starting Gate: GOP Race Gets Fuzzier

(AP/Nick Wass)
Just when you thought it was safe to handicap the GOP presidential race, Mike Huckabee crashes the party. The former Arkansas governor has taken his underfunded and underdog campaign to new heights in Iowa, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. Huckabee has surged to a all-time high 21 percent in the poll, trailing front-runner Mitt Romney in Iowa by just 6 points. In a Des Moines Register Iowa poll in October, Huckabee had just 12 percent.

A poll, of course, is simply a snapshot in time and we'll need to see more evidence of a Huckabee surge before buying into it totally. But it's not surprising to see him gaining. Iowa is a state tailor made for Huckabee's candidacy and message. Rudy Giuliani, who has sort of slipped in and out of the state, seeming to commit to really competing one day then vanishing for periods of time. Fred Thompson's late and lackluster entrance into the campaign hasn't won over the legions of support some once believed was there for his taking. John McCain, who started out behind the eight-ball in the state because of his support for the Senate's version of immigration reform appears to be aiming more at New Hampshire.

Still, Huckabee has struggled to capitalize on his surprising second-place showing in the Iowa Republican straw poll in August, bringing in a rather anemic $1 million during the third quarter. And, he has seen the support of social conservative leaders go to candidates much less simpatico with the movement's core beliefs. When Thompson received the backing of the National Right to Life Committee earlier in the week, it appeared to be a direct shot at Huckabee's viability.

But the attention he has paid to the state coupled with the conservative message he's delivered is paying dividends. Of those supporting Huckabee, 39 percent say it's because he shares their values or is a conservative. Just 20 percent of Romney supporters said the same about their choice.

Adding Huckabee to the mix in Iowa puts the race in even more flux than before. The CBS poll shows Romney with a solid lead in New Hampshire and should he manage to win both those early contests, he should gain a large boost heading into South Carolina and beyond. But McCain is ticking up in New Hampshire, a state he won in 2000 (he's tied for second with Giuliani in the CBS poll). And Romney fares less well in places like South Carolina, where his Mormon faith could be an issue – particularly in the rough-and-tough primary politics there – where Thompson appears strongest. And Giuliani's campaign has said they are counting on big showings in Florida and the February 5th states to rack up the delegates needed to win the nomination.

It all adds up to a fuzzy picture getting even fuzzier.

Googling For Dollars: Today Barack Obama will become the latest presidential candidate to pay a visit to Google's headquarters in Moutain View, Calif. for what's billed as a "town hall meeting." While special interest groups and cities in Iowa and New Hampshire host such events all the time, it might seem a little odd that a Silicon Valley company, even one as successful as Google, might be able to draw presidential candidates away from their typical routine.

So what brings presidential contenders to the Googleplex? Sure, there's a certain cachet to visiting a company that is seen as cool while also serving as the face of the new American economy. But there's another, more practical reason: Google employees like to give to candidates they like.

According to the Center For Responsive Politics, in the 2006 campaign cycle, Google employees made more than $395,000 in political contributions during the 2006 cycle. That compared to $113,000 from employees of Apple -- another hip tech company -- and $290,000 donated by employees of the much-larger General Motors Corp.

Already in the 2008 cycle, Google's workers have donated $273,000. Why are its employees so eager to contribute? A corporate culture that encourages political involvement by bringing in presidential candidates to speak surely helps. But so does owning shares of Google stock: Around the 2006 elections, shares of Google were selling for about $500 apiece. This year, they've flirted with a price of $800 per share. Really, any company that ends up turning its in-house masseuse into a multimillionaire can't be a bad place for a politician to visit.

Edwards' Empty Threat? As CBS News' Aaron Lewis noted, John Edwards launched a new ad in Iowa on Wednesday in which he lays down the threat of taking away Congress' health care if lawmakers fail to enact his universal health care plan within the first six months of his presidency. Hillary Clinton's campaign immediately shot back, saying that Edwards would have no power to take benefits away from the legislative branch. The Edwards response: Clinton is siding with politicians, not the people.

That, of course, doesn't address what Clinton's campaign was saying. The reason for that might be that because it was right. The Associated Press investigated Edwards' claim and found it wasn't feasible. "Offhand, I don't have a clue as to where he would get the power to do that," said Christopher Schroeder, a Duke University law professor. "Perhaps it would be his bully pulpit power."

In fact, on Edwards' own Web site, there's a clarification: Edwards "will submit legislation that ends health care coverage for the president, all members of Congress and all senior political appointees in the legislative and executive branches of government on July 20, 2009 -- unless Congress has enacted universal health care reform."

Good luck getting that passed by Congress.

Why Campaigns should Script Questions: From CBS News' Dante Higgins: John McCain was visibly embarrassed on the campaign trail and the cameras were there to catch it. t a speaking engagement in Hilton Head SC Monday, Senator McCain looked embarrassed for the second time this week. During the Q & A portion of the event a woman asked the Senator, "How do we beat the b---?" referring to Hillary Clinton. The room roared with laughter and McCain put his hands on his face in embarrassment, before continuing on with the event.

CBS News caught up with Linda Burke of Hilton Head who asked the question, who said, "That's the way I feel about it. I don't trust her. I think she's diabolic and so is her husband. I've felt that way since she came on the political scene. I think we are in deep, deep trouble if that person heads our country." Burke calls herself a "true republican" and is undecided on who she will vote for in 2008.

She said she was impressed with Senator McCain's loyalty and patriotism. She called him a "good man" and claimed that there wasn't anyone else like him in government. She said he should have been president eight years ago, but admits she is considering Rudy Giuliani as her choice. She lived in New York when he was mayor and describes his 911 attack response as "truly miraculous". Despite poll numbers McCain spouted to her about how he is the best candidate to beat Clinton, she insists, "Right now the way I see it…Giuliani is really the only person that could beat her…It's just my gut feeling."

Last week, McCain was caught off guard was when he and his mother, Roberta McCain, appeared on "Hardball." McCain's eyebrows rose high into his forehead as he stared head-on into the live television camera while his 95-year-old mother spoke candidly about presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Mormons. "As far as the Salt Lake City thing, he's a Mormon and the Mormons of Salt Lake City had caused that scandal," she said in reference to the Salt Lake Olympics scandal. McCain quickly inserted that he didn't share the views of his mother, saying, "The views of my mothers are not necessarily the views of mine."

Around The Track:

  • Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley said he will not endorse a fellow Republican for president before the caucuses.
  • Former powerhouse book publisher Judith Regan is suing News Corp., the company which fired her, for $100 million. In the lawsuit, Regan alleges a senior executive in the company encouraged her to lie to federal investigators about details of her affair with Bernard Kerik in order to protect Rudy Giuliani's presidential aspirations. Details, however, were not provided.
  • In the battle to gain the attention, if not outright endorsement of Nancy Reagan, Republican candidates can't be happy with the latest politician to catch the former First Lady's attention. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a possible Independent presidential candidate, will host a fundraiser for the Reagan Presidential Library tonight, reports the AP.
  • It may be a little too late to help Sen. Clinton but New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is abandoning his proposal to provide drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, according to the AP.