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January 29, 2014 5:15 PM Huck the New Christie?

By Ed Kilgore

There’s growing buzz about a new PPP poll that shows Mike Huckabee, fresh on the publicity over his comments about contraception and the female libido, taking the lead in a 2016 GOP trial heat, even as last month’s leader, Chris Christie, experienced a “collapse” of support. The main initial usage of this poll has been by liberals who attribute Huck’s climb to atavistic Republican views about women. But I think there’s a lot more going on than that.

Huck only picked up three points from last month’s PPP poll, and that might be as attributable to his reappearance in the news as to the content of what he said. The more dramatic movement in the poll was a six-point drop for Christie. The horse-race numbers may actually understate the deterioration of his support. His overall favorability ratio went from 43/31 in December to 31/46 in January. Among Democrats, it dropped from 38/36 to 20/58 (whoa!); among indies from 46/28 to 29/44; and among Republicans, from 48/26 to 45/35. Within the all-important self-identified “very conservative voters,” Chris is getting close to veto-land, with a 32/47 ratio. So Christie’s rapidly losing the “electability” cache that theoretically made him acceptable to conservatives, and they’re pretty much down on him anyway.

So who’s the potential “electable conservative” candidate? The guy who might have the ideal combination of genuine support from hard-core conservatives without being toxic to non-Republicans is actually Huck. As you may recall, in 2008 Huck benefitted from the same sort of dynamic until he ran out of money. He won Iowa thanks to support from serious Christian Right types, but at the same time, had a positive image in the MSM thanks to his sunny disposition (you know, jokiness plus bass playing) and his refusal to pretend the W. economy was just aces.

Right now in the PPP survey Huck is the very favorite candidate of very conservative voters, but is doing about as well in general election tests against HRC as Christie (trailing by three points) or anyone else. For that matter, he has the best approval ratio (33/37) among women of anyone in the GOP field, though that might not withstand too many more comments about Uncle Sugar and libidos.

All in all, it seems far more rational to me that Republicans will prefer a “true conservative” with general election appeal than someone with general election appeal they aren’t so sure about. With Christie rapidly losing on both ends of that proposition, Huck could fill the bill; in theory, so could Jeb Bush, though his visibility level remains very low and his momma doesn’t want him to run.

UPDATE: If Huck’s going to make a viable run, he’ll have to mend fences with the organization that he called the “Club for Greed” in 2008. Oops: look like he went after them again in 2013.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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