After Florida: Mike Huckabee

Final Pre-Primary Polling Average: Fourth Place, 12.9 percent (1.8 behind Giuliani, 17.2 behind Romney, 17.8 behind McCain)
Current National Polling Average: Third Place, 18.8 percent (1.5 behind Romney, 7.5 behind McCain)

Mike Huckabee won't win Florida. He won't finish second. But the difference between third and fourth could make a huge impact heading into Super Tuesday.

Here's why. South Carolina was Huckabee's firewall state. After a stunning insurgent victory in Iowa, the hope was that he'd sweep the First in the South primary, finally fill his war chest,  fly into Florida with enough steam to win and wake up on Feb. 5 as the frontrunner. But losing to McCain in the Palmetto State stalled Huck's already paltry fundraising efforts, and he arrived here last week without enough money to compete in the Sunshine State's seemingly endless (and expensive) media markets. Since then, he's largely ceded Florida to his rivals, scheduling no more than one or two in-state appearances per day.

Which means that expectations are low. If Huckabee places fourth, it'll be difficult to claim any momentum heading into Super Tuesday, and his conservative supporters may coalesce around the more viable Romney. (Not that he'd drop out; advisors have downplayed today's vote, saying, "A close fourth [place] will be fine.") But if the former Arkansas governor comes from behind to defeat Giuliani, who has spent 58 days in Florida while staking his entire campaign on the state, he could get a boost in friendly Feb. 5 contests like Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia and, of course, Arkansas, which represent more than 25% of the delegates needed for the Republican nomination. Huckabee, in fact, has spent the last week jetting between Florida and the Deep South in an effort to shore up support. A bronze won't be enough to propel him to the nomination, but at this point every strong showing--especially among evangelicals still wary of frontrunners Romney and McCain--makes him a more attractive pick for vice president.

At least, that is, for McCain. When Romney accused the Arizona senator of "dishonesty" Saturday, Huckabee rushed to his defense. "Dishonest? I’ve never seen John McCain say something that is just blatantly untrue,” Huckabee said. "We have a civil approach to presidential process. Neither of us has sought the office by cracking the kneecaps of the other."

Hmm. I wonder whom he's rooting for tonight.

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