Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, little known outside his home state, is running a low-budget, long-shot campaign for the Republican nomination for president. The 52-year-old has become a darling of the media but he is lacking in campaign money. Still, recent public opinion polls show him gaining on his opponents, especially in Iowa.

VOA's Cindy Saine takes a closer look at whether Mike Huckabee could be the breakout Republican candidate to watch.

Mike Huckabee projects optimism and uses self deprecating humor often on the campaign trail. "My luggage is somewhere. I do not know where. And neither does Delta [Airline]," he recently said on a campaign stop.

He positions himself as the likable underdog [long-shot candidate].

A reporter asked him why he joined the race. He replied, "I could start by saying that I've lost my mind, but that probably wouldn't be the answer that you'd want to print. No, I think America does need positive and optimistic leadership to help restore the national spirit."

Huckabee makes an appeal to social conservatives. He professes deeply held religious beliefs, such as abhorrence of abortion and gay marriage. But the ordained Baptist minister defies easy labeling.

Huckabee plays bass guitar in a rock band.

On the campaign trail, several voters at a diner in Peterborough, New Hampshire say they liked what they saw.

New Hampshire voter Deeann Dubois says, "He's got a lot of good ideas. He's a down to earth guy. He loves dogs. He plays guitar. What more could you ask for?"

New Hampshire voter Bob Demaura added, "He answered questions, stuck to his principles -- good to see in a politician."

Huckabee governed Arkansas, a state in the southern region of the U.S., from 1996 to 2007 as a centrist. He flouted his Party's anti-tax dogma by raising taxes to pay for a children's health program.

Some analysts say Huckabee's combination of social conservatism and economic populism could have enormous appeal for white and black working class voters in the South and Midwest.

He often mentions another former Arkansas governor who also comes from a working class family in the small town called Hope. Bill Clinton ran for president and won, twice.

Huckabee has gone through several transformations. The first male in his family to graduate from high school and college, he landed in the governor's mansion. Later, at the urging of his doctor, the governor lost close to 50 kilograms -- transforming himself into a marathon runner.

Now, analysts wonder if the "back of the pack" [one of the candidates ranking lowest in the polls] candidate can become a frontrunner in the Republican race? Several of the latest polls show Huckabee moving into a virtual tie for second place among Republicans in Iowa.

Stuart Rothenberg tracks current political trends as the founder of a prominent national newsletter and says, "Well, I think Huckabee has gotten some traction, as, particularly, conservative Republicans look for a candidate they are entirely comfortable with. None of the top-tier candidates, none of the real frontrunners fit that description. Huckabee may."

Though critics say he has virtually no foreign policy experience, Huckabee takes a tough stand against terrorism, much like other leading Republican candidates. He says, "We cannot completely ever understand the depth of fanaticism that drives Islamofacism, and that's why we must make sure that every American understands that the threat of our freedom is real."

Huckabee told VOA he believes he can beat the odds to win the nomination -- without money or a nationwide campaign organization. "You think about where we started, which was at rock bottom and we've been on a consistent trajectory upward. There are others who started at the top. Very few who started at or near the top are still where they were. And while others are taking on water, or their ships are sinking, our sails are tacked to the wind."

Voters in states with primaries and caucuses in early 2008 will be the first to decide if Mike Huckabee is ready to run the biggest marathon of his life, the race for the White House.