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Republican Presidential Contender Huckabee Making Strong Bid in Iowa


Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is showing some strength as a Republican presidential contender in the early contest state of Iowa. Huckabee is not as well known nationally as some of the other Republican contenders, but he hopes a good showing in Iowa will boost his presidential prospects. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

The latest Washington Post ABC News poll shows Huckabee moving up fast in Iowa, which holds the first presidential caucuses for both parties on January 3rd.

The poll has former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in first place in Iowa with 28 percent support. But Huckabee has moved up to a close second with 24 percent. Former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee trails with 15 percent followed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 13 percent. Giuliani, however, continues to lead the Republican field in national polls.

Huckabee is getting more national attention as his standing in Iowa improves. He recently appeared on a candidate's forum sponsored by XM radio and the CSPAN public affairs network.

"I know who I am," Huckabee said. "I am comfortable in my own skin, not mad at anybody. In fact, I want to present the kind of positive leadership this nation needs."

Steffen Schmidt is a political expert at Iowa State University. Schmidt says Huckabee is a candidate who could surprise a lot of people in the Iowa vote.

"Governor Huckabee is a good possibility, someone who is very charming and who has gotten very good publicity and is not at the top, but is rising," Schmidt said.

Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister and his conservative views on abortion and gay marriage are an asset with evangelical Christian voters. Religious conservatives make up a sizable portion of Republican caucus goers in Iowa.

Experts say Huckabee's challenge will be to keep up the momentum in Iowa and build on any success there to make him better known to Republicans nationally and raise campaign funds.

Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"On the Republican side, it is obvious that if you were going to pick a surprise, you would pick Huckabee," Sabato said. "But how much of a surprise is he since he has been covered extensively now and everyone knows he is moving up in the polls."

Sabato was a guest on VOA's Talk to America webchat.

Iowa also looms as a crucial test for the Democratic presidential contenders. The recent Washington Post ABC News poll gave Illinois Senator Barack Obama a slight lead over Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, with former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina trailing behind in third place.

Clinton has a big lead in the national polls, but experts say an early defeat for her in Iowa would open up the Democratic race and make it much more unpredictable.