As Soren Dayton notes, there are two salient facts: Mike Huckabee's campaign did not rent buses to drive supporters to the straw poll in Ames, Iowa and he supports the Fair Tax, which would replace the income tax and most of the tax code with a national retail sales tax.
Here is what Dayton is getting at. Fairtax.org, a 504 (c) 4, filled at least 20 buses worth of economically conservative Iowans and drove them to the straw poll. Of the mainstream Republican candidates, only Huckabee has made the Fair Tax a staple of his domestic policy program.
In an e-mail to supporters Saturday, FairTax.org bragged that it "made history tonight. Our grassroots efforts in Iowa made the FairTax the deciding issue in Iowa's Straw Poll. We did it!"
[We] want to especially thank our dedicated volunteers and hardworking staff members who braved almost 100 degree temperatures to make our rallies and hospitality tent the places to be at the Iowa Straw Poll. Their hard work, in extremely difficult weather conditions, set the bar even higher for our next major rally. Yes, we will be rallying on the East Coast again - details coming soon.
Nowhere does FairTax.org claim that it specifically aided the Huckabee effort and 20 to 30 buses worth of supporters would be responsible for at most half of Huckabee's margin. Not incidentally, any collusion between the Huckabee campaign and Fair Tax.org would be legally questionable.
Here's another source of Huckabee's strength: home schoolers. It's true -- a campaign tells me that national home school advocate Michael Farris helped to organize a train of car poolers for Iowa homeschools and points out that Huckabee had two breakfast meetings on Saturday morning with some of his more ardent home-school-parent supporters.
In his speech to straw-poll goers, Huckabee dared them to prove their "maturity" -- his word -- by casting their ballots based on an assessment of substance, not style. It was a powerful appeal to reason, and some might speculate that his words moved votes. The problem is that Huckabee spoke around 2:00 pm. By that point, about 12,000 of 14,000 votes had already been cast. It's possible that the lion's share of afternoon votes went to Huckabee, but there's no way to prove this.
So -- how did Huckabee finish so highly?
1. He is a powerful political communicator.
2. His campaign paid for about 1800 tickets.
3. His support of the Fair Tax proposal
4. His affinity with evangelical Christians and home schoolers
5. His many visits to Iowa and high-profile evangelical activist supporters
6. He needed only about 2600 votes to finish second
7. His debate performances