“If we add up the points across all six categories, the [biggest beneficiary from Huckabee’s decision], with 4.5 points, is Herman Cain of Georgia, the radio talk show host and entrepreneur who is beginning to get more attention lately. He’s the most Huckabee-like of the other Republican candidates. Closely behind him, with 4 points each, are Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. Mr. Pawlenty, Mr. Santorum and (somewhat to my surprise) Mr. Paul also score reasonably well.
“Other candidates, however, share little in common with Mr. Huckabee. Jon Huntsman of Utah might be closest to his opposite number — socially moderate rather than socially conservative, Mormon rather than evangelical Protestant, rarely seen in the cornfields of Iowa or on the airwaves of Fox News. Mr. Romney doesn’t share much in common with Mr. Huckabee — although his not having to compete against Mr. Huckabee in Iowa would be a big deal. Donald Trump and Mr. Huckabee don’t have much in common.”
“But the biggest impact of Huckabee’s opting out of a second race may be felt by his arch-nemesis.
“Without the former preacher in the race, why couldn’t Romney make a strong showing in Iowa? The 34 percent of caucus-goers who supported Huckabee in the race could splinter, leaving a path for Romney to capture a plurality victory in the Hawkeye State…
“Another Iowa Republican was even blunter, suggesting that the Romney fig leaf for not being able to win the caucuses has been stripped away.
“The biggest loser is Romney because he no longer has a foil in Iowa,’ said the Republican. ‘All the Iowa polls sans Huckabee have him winning.'”
“Pawlenty was according to all reports a finalist for vice president in 2008, and I don’t recall any important GOP or movement conservative groups objecting. So why isn’t Pawlenty pulling away?
“Perhaps he is, and we just don’t realize it yet. That’s the Dukakis analogy. Looking at Nate Silver’s data, Mike Dukakis was an apparent longshot based on early polling, sitting at about 8%. At this point in the 1988 process, Democrats were generally unenthusiastic about the field, distracted by implausible nominees (most notably, Jesse Jackson), and looking for a late entry to save them. Dukakis just rolled along, doing the things that candidates need to be doing, and by the time the actual voting came along he basically had the thing locked up, even though it took a while to get it done.
“And yet…while Dukakis was liked well enough, he never inspired a whole lot of enthusiasm among Democrats. Jesse Jackson, yes. Mario Cuomo, who never ran, yes. But Dukakis was acceptable. Perfectly fine. Certainly would do. Just not someone who set anyone on fire, the way that even losers like Gary Hart in 1984 or Ted Kennedy in 1980 had done.”
“I think people are complaining that this is not off to a brisk start, I think that’s wrong. I think we know with reasonable certainty that standing up there on the west front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2013 will be one of three people: Obama, [Tim] Pawlenty and [Mitch] Daniels. I think that’s it.”
“‘There are a lot of great candidates — most of them are very dear friends of mine,’ he said. ‘Rick Santorum for example is a strong social conservative, but is also a strong fiscal and, I think, defense conservative, foreign policy conservative. Tim Pawlenty, is another person; Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann… Sarah Palin, should she decide to get in, and I think people are awaiting her decision, like they were mine.’…
“‘There’s been a lot of talk about Mitt Romney and me,’ he said. ‘We don’t socialize, we’re not close personally, but I want to make it very clear: If Mitt Romney is the nominee for our party, I will support him because I believe Mitt Romney would be a better president of the United States than Barack Obama on any day.'”