Granted, McCain’s candidacy looked D.O.A. too at this point four years ago. But conservative primary voters circa 2007 were a different entity than they are today. Romney, as the alleged next-in-line “frontrunner,” has got to be at least a little nervous that he’s not actually, you know, frontrunning, right?

Huckabee and Palin, in particular, seem to share a common base — both running more strongly among those with family incomes of $50,000 or less (Huckabee 26 percent, Palin 25 percent) and whites without college degrees (Palin 26 percent, Huckabee 25 percent).

Romney, on the other hand, runs best among the college educated (30 percent), whites making over $50,000 a year (29 percent) and whites with college degrees (32 percent).

Among self-identified conservatives, the top tier expands slightly to include Christie and Gingrich. Nineteen percent of conservatives favor Huckabee as compared to 16 percent for Romney, 14 percent for Palin and 11 percent each for Gingrich and Christie.

Not only does Huck lead among self-described conservatives, he leads by seven among people who describe themselves as “very conservative” and among white evangelical Protestants by the same margin. That jibes with PPP’s surprising poll yesterday showing that he also leads in Texas — which I would have guessed is Palin country — with 25 percent versus 21 percent for Palin, 17 percent for Gingrich, and 10 percent(!) for Romney. The logical assumption is that Mitt’s path to victory will require a big scrum of socially conservative candidates splitting the “true conservative” vote several ways, but here he is stuck at 10 percent in fourth place in Texas even if Rick Perry jumps in and siphons off votes from Palin. No wonder he’s taking a “cautious approach” in Iowa: If this is what he’s in for in states with lots of evangelicals in the primaries, why even bother?

As for Huck, lately Palin supporters have been tweeting at me with new bits of evidence that he’s not running. His 2008 campaign manager just left to go work for a congressman. And what’s with that cruise to Alaska in early June? The race will have begun by then, so doesn’t booking that mean he has other plans for this year? Maybe — but Huck’s said repeatedly that if he does run, he won’t get in until late. He’s already well known to Iowans per his victory there last time, and it turns out his book tour itinerary calls for no fewer than six events in that state and five in South Carolina. As poll after poll shows him either in the thick of the race or leading outright, and with Palin’s favorables down after the media bombardment she took last week, how could he not run? The Christian base is potentially his for the taking.

Actually, there’s one thing that might keep him out: The prospect of Obama looking unbeatable as the economy improves. Huckabee’s cautioned before that it’ll be tougher to beat him than many conservatives think, a point he reiterated on Fox this afternoon in light of PPP’s poll showing The One now up five on him and Mitt. That’s why he’s intent on getting in as late as possible, I assume — to see if challenging Obama next year will be a fool’s errand. Exit question: With populism ascendant among the Republican base and grassroots conservatives already bristling at Romney as a phony with money, should his advisors really be describing his upcoming campaign as less like IBM and more like JetBlue?