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Huckabee Slipping

By Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- While public polls show Mike Huckabee leading Mitt Romney in Iowa, a new survey of an oversized sample shows Huckabee slipping and no longer ahead of Romney.

A private corporate interest commissioned a phone bank survey of 15,000 Iowans who say they will attend Republican presidential caucuses Jan. 3. It showed Romney with 30 percent and Huckabee at 26 percent. Sen. John McCain was third with 12 percent and Rudy Giuliani fourth at 9 percent. Fred Thompson had only 1 percent, with slightly fewer votes than Rep. Ron Paul (also at 1 percent).

Numbers for both Huckabee and Romney dipped sharply when Iowans were asked their second choice. In contrast, McCain was the leading second-choice candidate for both Huckabee and Romney voters.

Unexpected late intervention by Bob Dole in the Iowa Republican caucuses confirms that Mike Huckabee may have blundered by assailing President George W. Bush's "arrogant bunker mentality" in international affairs.

"Why have you joined the 'Bush bashers'?" Dole asked in a letter to Huckabee that he made public. Dole, until now neutral in the 2008 contest, called Huckabee's critique of Bush policy in Foreign Affairs magazine a "perfect example of 20-20 hindsight."

Dole, who won the 1996 Iowa caucuses en route to the presidential nomination, told Huckabee that Iowans would not approve of his attack on Bush (who still gets 80 percent approval from Republicans). He concluded the letter with typical Dole humor: "P.S. I lost the General [election] in '96, so what do I know?"

Sen. Barack Obama's rise against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination leads some of the party's strategists to celebrate the prospect for a better match-up against Sen. John McCain as the Republican nominee.

"I'll take a 47-year-old [Obama] against a 72-year-old [McCain] any day," is the private comment of one prominent Democrat who long ago made Sen. Clinton his pick for president. Like many insiders of both parties, he considers McCain -- on the rise for the Republican nomination -- as the GOP candidate most likely to defeat Clinton.

A footnote: The fluid quality of the Iowa Democratic caucuses does not rule out the possibility of a first-place finish there Jan. 3 by John Edwards. That would be more damaging for Obama than it would be for Clinton, even if she finished third in Iowa.

Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel is on pace to raise over $7 million in campaign money in his first two years as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, far outstripping anybody ever to hold that post.

Rangel reported contributions of $2.7 million for the first three quarters of the 2007 election off-year. His Republican predecessor, Rep. Bill Thomas, raised $3.8 million for his entire six years as chairman. The previous Republican chairman, Rep. Bill Archer, took in less than $1 million in his six years.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the largest contributors to Rangel this year have been Citigroup, $59,950; MetLife, $50,500; and JPMorgan Chase, $37,600. MetLife is a major corporate opponent of repealing the estate tax, whose retention is firmly supported by Rangel.

In the closing hours of the 2007 congressional session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to permit a vote on two amendments to the omnibus appropriations bill proposed by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn that would have transferred funds earmarked for special projects by individual members of Congress to wider uses.

One Coburn amendment would have redirected earmarked money to improving deficient roads and bridges, typified by the interstate highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis that collapsed Aug. 1. His other proposal would have shifted funding to health care for women and children.

A footnote: Among thousands of earmarks approved in the omnibus bill was $200,000 for a "post office museum" in downtown Las Vegas requested by Nevada's Sen. Reid.

Copyright 2007, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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