Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani entered politics as a big-city prosecutor; Huckabee as a rural preacher. Giuliani is out of synch with the GOP's social conservative core; Huckabee is its most consistent champion. Giuliani's calling card is his leadership against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks; Huckabee has less experience on defense and foreign policy issues than any of his chief rivals.
The two candidacies offer dramatically different paths for a Republican Party now struggling to define and sell itself to voters. Should the GOP be led by an often-caustic, opera-loving New Yorker who vows to battle radical Islam? Or a joke-cracking southerner who raises income inequality as an issue and favors classic rock and contemporary Christian music on his two iPods? ("Modern country, too," he says.) The chasm between him and Giuliani on the issues they emphasize and the regional cultures they represent "shows that the Republican Party is a bigger tent than the Democrat Party," Huckabee says. Perhaps, but it also underscores how unsettled the Republican contest is just a month before the Iowa caucuses -- and reflects how no GOP contender has satisfied a majority of the party. Giuliani, dubbed "America's mayor" after the 9/11 attacks, supports abortion rights and gay rights, positions at odds with social conservatives. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney once held similar views but now opposes abortion rights. Arizona Sen. John McCain has had trouble gaining ground among some Republicans who note his crusades on immigration and campaign-finance reform. Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who presented himself as the answer for conservatives when he made a late entry into the race in September, has turned out to be a less than energetic campaigner. It's all provided an opening for Huckabee -- an ordained Baptist minister who has always opposed abortion and raised his hand at one debate to say he didn't believe in evolution -- to attempt the unprecedented. Democrats sometimes have chosen presidential candidates who emerged from obscurity; former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter in 1976, for example. But the GOP in modern times has never nominated a contender who started the race so far back in the pack. Even in Iowa, his best state among those with early contests, Huckabee was at 1 percent support among likely Republican caucusgoers this summer. Now he tops the Register poll, published Sunday, and leads Romney 29 percent-24 percent. In Florida, one statewide poll last week put Huckabee in second place, trailing only Giuliani, for its Jan. 29 primary. In South Carolina, which votes Jan. 19, the latest survey shows him running third, behind Romney and Giuliani and ahead of fellow southerner Thompson.