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Huckabee is For Real

By John McIntyre

It is not about Iowa only any more. Mike Huckabee has a real shot to be the Republican nominee.

A month ago after the Values Voters conference I opined:

I don't know that Mike Huckabee will win the GOP Iowa Caucus, but right now he looks like a solid choice to finish second, and at 5-1 I like his odds to win Iowa outright.

The chart below shows Huckabee's impressive move up to 3rd in the latest RCP Average in Iowa. Coupled with his overwhelming win in the Values Voters (onsite) straw poll this weekend, the potential emergence of Mike Huckabee into the first tier is a significant development in the GOP race.

Well that potentiality has materialized. And at roughly 10-1 to win the Republican nomination (he is trading in 3rd place at 11.7 at Intrade) I like his odds to be the GOP nominee.

The GOP race is usually characterized as either a two-person contest (Giuliani vs. Romney) or a wide open field among the five viable candidates (Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, Huckabee and McCain). However, what we are fast approaching is a three-man race between Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani.

In general this is very bad news for Mitt Romney. A strongly viable Huckabee will steal voters Romney has to have to be able to beat Giuliani as the primary calendar moves into the post-New Hampshire contests. Ironically it may be Romney's money, campaign infrastructure, coupled with his strength in New Hampshire that keeps his campaign alive long enough to prevent the anti-Giuliani forces in the GOP from rallying around Huckabee. Back in July I speculated that this type of three way dynamic splitting the anti-Rudy vote was one of Giuliani's path's to the nomination.

Just like Giuliani was the key to McCain's demise, Thompson may be what sinks the Romney campaign. This would effectively leave a two-person race between the New Yorker and the Tennessean, with Romney perhaps siphoning just enough conservative votes that allows the pro-choice, thrice married Rudy Giuliani the pathway to the GOP nomination.

What we have developing is Huckabee stepping in and filling the void in the GOP field that was available to Thompson in the summer - a void that his inept campaign has been unable to fill. So perhaps instead of the Tennessean sinking the Romney campaign it could very well be the Arkansan.

For the Romney campaign the silver lining in Huckabee's move into the first tier -- and it is not an unimportant silver lining -- is that Huckabee has totally shaken up the expectations for Iowa on the GOP side. Because of this resetting of expectations in December, if Romney is able to hold off Huckabee in Iowa it will be a huge win for his campaign. A win that would allow the Romney campaign to get the kind of momentum they were looking for when they originally laid out their sling-shot strategy to the nomination. (Win Iowa, win New Hampshire, win Michigan, make it a two-person race against Giuliani, combine the early wins with Romney's personal wealth to overwhelm Rudy).

However, what has to make the Romney campaign very nervous is this chart in Iowa.

iowa-gop.gif

Intrade now has Huckabee at 55.1 and Romney at 38.0. Those markets are correctly pricing the race. Romney is now the underdog in Iowa.

An important signal to watch for over the next month will be whether Huckabee overtakes Romney in the national polls leading up to Iowa. If that were to happen concurrently with Huckabee continuing to head toward a win in Iowa that would be an important tell that Republican voters are moving toward ultimately a Huckabee vs. Giuliani showdown.

Giuliani remains the favorite, but at 10-1 odds that would be a showdown that Mike Huckabee might just be able to win.

John McIntyre is the co-founder & President of RealClearPolitics. Email: john@realclearpolitics.com

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