Why the Huckabee Surge is Good for Rudy

So, Rudy Giuliani’s new best friend has climbed into a statistical tie with Mitt Romney in Iowa. On the heels of a poll last week that found Mike Huckabee drawing within 6 points of Romney, a new survey out today places the former Arkansas governor at 24 percent—just 4 points shy of Romney, who until recently enjoyed a commanding lead in the state.

Huckabee’s rapid rise is nothing short of remarkable, fueled by his personal appeal and grassroots campaigning acumen—and not television ads, which the cash-strapped candidate could only afford to start airing this week. By contrast, the free-spending (and partly self-funding) Romney has saturated the Iowa airwaves with slick campaign spots for months, buying his way to dominance in the polls.

This is great news for Giuliani, who hasn’t exactly had a good past few weeks, because it is absolutely critical for his chances that Romney trip up in one or more of the earliest primary and caucus states. Giuliani himself is not naturally-suited to do well in Iowa; fifteen percent may be his ceiling there. But Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, cultural conservative and (sort of) economic populist is an almost-too-perfect match for the Hawkeye State.

From Giuliani’s standpoint, a Huckabee win in Iowa—now a very realistic scenario—is as good as a Giuliani win, since the fallout would wound Romney in New Hampshire (a state Rudy can potentially win, the most recent numbers notwithstanding) and severely crimp his strategy of building unstoppable national momentum by sweeping the early states.

The only caveat here for Giuliani is that Huckabee’s surge might be coming too soon. Now, Romney will have six weeks to shred Huckabee, something he’s only recently begun to do. And the media’s expectations for Iowa—until now, anything short of a lopsided Romney win would have been played up as a loss for him—may now shift, lowering the bar for Romney and ratcheting up the value of even a narrow win over Huckabee.