The key to his success is playing up his differences with the competition on fiscal issues, which truly distinguishes himself from nearly all of his rivals. Walker is betting that his hard line on big labor will endear him to all Republican voters, but union-bashing isn’t an inherent political winner across the GOP, especially among its working-class constituency. And unlike Rand Paul, who has been forced to play down his heterodox views on national security because of the GOP’s hawkish roots, Huckabee’s economic populism is responding to an untapped market within the Republican party. His ripostes against free trade and immigration reform have the potential to resonate beyond the South, if he runs a more disciplined race than eight years ago.
So much attention has been paid to the candidates’ fundraising, making it easy to miss the power of certain candidates’ messages. It’s why Jeb Bush’s formidable fundraising hasn’t translated into widespread public support. It’s why Marco Rubio’s compelling personal biography as the son of Cuban-American immigrants helped propel him into the first tier of contenders. And it’s why Scott Walker’s own blue-collar background has made him an early conservative favorite.
For Huckabee, being seen as a credible working-class champion is what will make or break his campaign. If his message resonates, it’s a lot easier to find someone to bankroll a campaign than it was eight years ago. And if he can find his own wealthy patron to support him—like Rick Santorum achieved with Foster Freiss in 2012—his path to the nomination isn’t quite as far-fetched as the conventional wisdom has it.