WASHINGTON – Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is on the rise as his campaign gains momentum, drawing stronger response not only from voters but also a fellow contender.
This past week the ordained Southern Baptist preacher bumped former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney from his first-tier position and caused the best financed Republican contender to take a personal shot at the not-so-well financed Huckabee.
Romney took a swipe at Huckabee Friday in an Iowa Public Television interview that the former Arkansas governor had supported "special tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants," according to TIME.com's political blog Swampland.
It was the first time that the GOP frontrunner in Iowa had ever directed an attack solely at Huckabee.
"I must be doing well," Huckabee said Saturday morning in response when he was informed of Romney's comment.
Huckabee for the first time passed Romney in a national poll on Friday. The Rasmussen Reports, considered one of the nation's most accurate polling firm, announced Friday that "for the first time ever" Huckabee moved into the top four.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani holds the top position with 20 percent of likely Republican primary voters nationwide, followed by former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson with 19 percent, Arizona Sen. John McCain with 14 percent, Huckabee with 12 percent, and Romney with 11 percent nationally, according to Rasmussen.
"I guess I'd be coming after me too," Huckabee said. "I'd also be crying, if I'd spent all that money."
The Wall Street Journal and the head of Arkansas' conservative Eagle Forum have also scrutinized Huckabee's governing records, pointing out critical aspects as he gained greater prominence in the election.
Also this past week, the 30-million strong National Association of Evangelicals released a survey that showed Huckabee leading the list of 2008 presidential candidates in the October 2007 Evangelical Leaders survey.
The survey questioned 100 members of the NAE board of directors that include heads of evangelical denominations with about 45,000 local churches, executives of para-church organizations and colleges.
"There is no groundswell support for any Republican or Democratic candidate," says NAE President Leith Anderson. "Huckabee is a clear first choice but there is concern that he is too far behind in the polls to catch up. If he does well in the Iowa caucuses or early primaries then Evangelicals may suddenly rally to his support."
Huckabee first gained notable national attention after a surprising strong second-place finish in August at the Iowa straw poll and then coming in second narrowly behind Romney at the Washington Values Voter Summit earlier this month.
He has been called the "dark horse" and the "sleeper candidate" of the upcoming election as he continues to gain supporters with his down-to-earth, "I'm one of you" demeanor while proving to be a formidable foe during debates.
"His successes have been all the more remarkable for having been accomplished on a shoestring budget, suggesting that genuine voter affection, as opposed to advertising dollars, is driving the Huckabee surge," noted Karen Tumulty, TIME magazine's national political correspondent on Saturday.
Although Huckabee had lost to Romney in the Values Voters straw poll by a narrow margin of 30 votes – receiving altogether 1,565 votes (online and onsite) compared to his rival's 1,595 votes – the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had received 51.26 percent of the onsite votes compared to onsite runner-up Romney's 10.40 percent.