Huckabee wins the Iowa caucus (which is what would happen if the election were today). Romney is second. Rudy is third and Thompson fourth. Huckabee surges into New Hampshire and his communications skills help him ride the wave perfectly. But Romney has some success in framing the New Hampshire race as a choice between a regular Republican from the Northeast and a southern Christian conservative. He tickles New Hampshire's secret "screw Iowa" appetite and with McCain retaining some strength in New Hampshire Giuliani finds it hard to surge. The results are muddy. Huckabee narrowly wins New Hampshire by fewer than 900 votes over Romney. McCain is third, closely followed by Giuliani. Thompson is fifth and drops out.
The next week Romney narrowly beats Huckabee, now fueled by enough Internet money to run television, in Michigan. McCain runs a distant third. The media labels Huckabee's close second place finish a "win" in a state where he has no organization. Huckabee beats the wounded Romney four days later in South Carolina. McCain drops out after a second disappointing third place finish, narrowly ahead of Giuliani, whose campaign announces they are making a final make or break stand in Florida, as they have always claimed in their brilliant Master Plan. Seeing Romney as his main opponent in Florida for the regular Republican vote, Giuliani uses his final cash on hand to launch a very tough television attack on Romney, featuring former Massachusetts governor and Rudy supporter Paul "DeNiro" Cellucci. McCain endorses Rudy. Romney interjects another $5 million in personal funds into his campaign and launches a blistering TV counterattack on Rudy. Ten days later, Huckabee wins the Florida primary, dominating north Florida and showing surprising strength in Pinellas, Orange, and Broward counties. Romney finishes second. Rudy, now lagging in every February 5 state poll except New York, drops out, refusing to endorse either remaining GOP candidate. On February 5, Huckabee sweeps, losing only Connecticut, Utah, and Delaware to Romney, who then leaves the race.
The general scenario makes sense (in long shot sort of way, obviously), but as to the details, I just can't see Huckabee, momentum or no, scraping out a victory in New Hampshire. That said, I don't think he needs to win in New Hampshire to stay competitive; what he needs, as the Cardinal's broad sketch suggests, is for both Romney and Rudy (or one of the two, plus McCain) to keep whaling on one another, and largely leaving him alone, till Florida and perhaps even beyond. I'm with Ramesh; I think Giuliani beats Huckabee in a two-man race, and I think that Romney does as well. Which means that Huckabee can only hope to win if both the current front-runners stay in and beat each other up in the hopes of being the last man standing - which, fortunately for him, they're both deep-pocketed and ambitious enough to do.
It's interesting that the Huck's rise coincides with Rich Lowry's provocative piece in the latest NR comparing Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter. As far as their skimpy resumes and "too good for politics" political styles go, the Lowry parallel is persuasive. As far as political trajectories, though, it’s Huckabee who has the more obvious Carter Redux thing going on: A pious, folksy, no-name Southern governor who rises steadily in the polls when all the putative front-runners turn out to be much more vulnerable than anyone expected.
Of course, given that Carter was the last and weakest President of the long liberal ascendancy, I don’t expect that this parallel would make anyone on the Right more comfortable with the Huck.
Photo by Flickr user DWQ used under a Creative Commons license.