November 28, 2007

A Huckabee Surprise?

Mike Huckabee may throw a monkey wrench into the well-laid plans of Mitt Romney. According to the latest Rasmussen polling, Huckabee has opened a lead over Romney in a state that Romney thought he had sewn up weeks ago:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the Iowa caucus finds former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with 28% of the vote, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with 25% support, and everyone else far behind. National frontrunner Rudy Giuliani gets just 12% of the vote in Iowa at this time while former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson is the only other candidate in double digits at 11% (see crosstabs).

Given the margin of error, the challenges of determining the relatively small number of people who will participate in a caucus, and other factors, the race is far too close to call at this point in time. However, the fact that Romney is no longer the clear frontrunner in Iowa reflects a stunning change in the race.

Compared to our prior survey, the trend is unmistakable—Huckabee has gone up and just about everybody else has gone down. Huckabee’s 28% support represents a twelve point increase from a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted earlier in the month. Romney is down four points while Giuliani and Thompson are each down three points from the previous survey. John McCain is down two points and earns just 4% support. Ron Paul picked up a point and is now at the 5% level.

Iowa doesn't concern McCain and Giuliani nearly as much as it does Romney. Neither candidate had put much effort into Iowa after seeing Romney's organization in the state. They concluded that they could afford to pass up the caucuses, McCain for New Hampshire and South Carolina, and Giuliani for Florida and the other Feb 5th big-state primaries.

Romney cannot afford to lose Iowa. He sank too much money, effort, and credibility into winning the caucuses, and a loss here would create a large opening -- for Rudy Giuliani. Romney had predicated his Iowa investment on its ability to give him a couple of big wins that would convince Super Tuesday voters of his ability to win the nomination. Without that, Rudy could ride his national polling lead to an easy national victory.

What about Huckabee? Huckabee would probably get a boost in fundraising, but only Giuliani has both the war chest and 50-state credibility to take advantage of an early Romney loss. It could boost Huckabee's standing for the VP slot. It could conceivably help the fortunes of John McCain if McCain could find a way to win New Hampshire and establish credibility as the conservative alternative to Giuliani.


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