For weeks, Mike Huckabee has been inching up in the polls in Iowa, but recently he seems to be surging. His strong performance at the recent Value Voters Summit and strong debate performances finally seem to be paying off. He also seems to be the pundit's choice, garnering favorable reviews from Jonathan Alter, Dick Morris, and David Brooks. He also recently won the endorsement of Chuck Norris, who might help him win over voters by simply staring them into submission.
I caught up with the former Arkansas governor on a weak cell-phone connection as he drove from the Omaha, Neb., airport to Sioux City, Iowa.
Slate: You have a bit of the buzz of the moment. Is it paying off?
Huckabee: We've raised more money the last six days online than in the entire first three months of the campaign. We've had to upgrade the server twice just to handle the traffic and get more people in to handle the phones, because we couldn't get to them all. It's just exploded on us.
Slate:Now what do you do?
Huckabee: We have to turn the momentum into funding. We have people who have been sitting on the sidelines, but now they're willing to host fund-raising events. We now have a whole new energy. The amazing thing is that we've gotten this far by being patient and figuring if we stayed here long enough, the message would get through, and people would realize that many of the other candidates just don't scratch the itch for them.
Slate: Does this mean that social conservatives are deciding to vote their principles rather than voting for the person who appears the most electable?
Huckabee: The rank and file are no longer waiting to be given the nod by people who are perceived to be their leaders. Many are frustrated they're not getting more of a sense of leadership from the organizations they've supported. But also now even [those concerned with electability] are seeing that we have an opportunity to win. That I'm not out of this thing.
Slate: Your skeptics worry you can't take on Hillary Clinton, about whom Republican voters are very emotional. Why are they so emotional, and can you take on Clinton?
Huckabee: Frankly, I'm the only person who can. I know her better than any other person running for president. I understand her better and how she's going to approach this campaign. The contrast is going to be much starker if it's Hilary and me than if it's anyone else on our ticket. The other thing is that we're not going to beat Hillary by demonizing her. If people believe that's the way to win the election, they are quite wrong. They're going to have to show contrast, but by showing a superior vision, not simply painting a nightmare scenario.
Slate: Are you going to use this moment to confront your GOP opponents more?
Huckabee: What I've got to do is to show people why I've got to be president, and people are smart enough to draw their own conclusions about the differences between us. It's not that I mind bringing out contrasts, but to relentlessly attack an opponent—I'm not sure that's what people are looking for. I think they're looking for someone who can manage the government, not necessarily disable their opponents.