Republicans:Huckabee's surge might be stalling and Giuliani's 'big state strategy' is in shambles

We have gotten a staggering number of jaw-dropping polls these past 2 weeks in which Huckabee kept shooting a bit more up every time. But polls released today suggest that Huckabee's momentous surge might have finally stabilized.

First up is Rasmussen's poll from the South Carolina primary:

  • Huckabee and Romney are at 23% each, with Thompson at 12% and McCain at 12%. Giuliani comes in fifth at 11%.
  • Two weeks ago, Huckabee was stunningly 7% ahead of Romney and Thompson.
Clearly, South Carolina will emerge as the key battleground between Huckabee and Romney should they both hold on to their respective leads in Iowa and in New Hampshire. But South Carolina was the state other than Iowa in which Huckabee had the biggest surge -- explainable in part by the large number of evangelicals who vote here and who are Huckabee's natural base (he gets 42% of evangelicals and 36% among those who say that a candidate's faith is very important, but only 10% among those who say it is not important).

Another sign of stalling in the latest national Gallup poll. In the last one, Huckabee had surged to second place -- but nothing has moved since then. Gallup finds Giuliani ahead with 27%, followed by a cluster for second place with Huck at 16%, and the three other Top Five members tied at 14%.

But there are other surveys out today that still register some shocking progressions on Huckabee's part. SUSA came out with primary polls from Florida and California:

  • In Florida, the race has tightened considerably in the past two weeks: Giuliani is ahead with 29%, Huckabee at 24%, and Romney at 20%. McCain's at 10% and Thompson at 8%.
  • In California, its Giuliani on top 28% to Huckabee 20%. Romney is at 16%,. McCain at 14% and and Thompson at 13%.
Put these two polls together with this morning's New York primary survey and one thing is evident: Rudy Giuliani's path to the nomination is slowly but surely being closed off. The Giuliani camp believes that it will remain competitive in the February 5th states no mattter what happens in January; and for a long time Rudy posted huge leads in states like California and Florida (which votes on 01/29). But with Huckabee and Romney both moving up considerably, Giuliani no longer has a double-digits lead anywhere. And if he weakening now, before losing the early states and possibly coming in fourth or fifth in some of them, can he hope to hold on until January 29th?

I've always been skeptical of Giuliani's chances and his big state strategy; there have been too many examples of a candidate with momentum jumping up phenomenally overnight after some early victory. But the latest waves of polls that show Rudy's lead in big state eroding, Giuliani now has to make a statement somewhere before Florida -- perhaps New Hampshire, or Michigan?

In the backdrop of all of this, the ad wars are intensifying between the GOP candidates. Mitt Romney started airing a second negative ad against Mike Huckabee today in Iowa, this one about crime contrasting Romney's supposedly tough record, with Huckabee tendency to grant pardons, including to convicted murderers. This is obviously a reference to the case of Dumond, a convicted rapist Huckabee pardoned (or rather he lobbied the parole board to get a pardon), though Romney does not go there directly (yet?). Also interesting is the ad's assertion that Huckabee has pardoned more criminals than the three previous governors combined -- these three previous governor includes Bill Clinton, though most ad viewers probably will not make that connection, so I wonder why Romney didn't draw it out more explicitly. You can watch the ad here.

In response, Huckabee is going all positive... and Christian. His latest ad (which you can view here) features the candidate in front of a Christmas tree wishing Iowans a "magnificent Christmas." Huckabee goes on to say that, "What really matters isthe celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends." As Christian an ad as I have seen in politics.

And I confess that I am puzzled by Huckabee's strategy here: He has pretty much locked up the evangelical vote already in Iowa and has been facing concerns that he is too one-dimensional a candidate, angering fiscal conservatives especially. That he would choose to ignore these issues and go for the feel-good religiosity implies that he believes that evangelicals are a big enough bloc that they can deliver victory, which has not been the case historically.

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