Who's afraid of the big bad Huck?

Drudge comes out swinging against Mike Huckabee, perhaps another sign that Mitt Romney's campaign is running scared.

By Alex Koppelman

Published December 11, 2007 7:12PM (EST)

We were looking at the Drudge Report this morning -- Matt Drudge does, after all, rule our world -- when we noted something interesting: An all-out attack on Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who's suddenly a major contender for the Republican presidential nomination. According to Drudge, Democrats are salivating over the possibility that Huckabee will be the Republican nominee. "Within the DNC," Drudge reports, "Huckabee is known as the 'glass jaw -- and they're just waiting to break it.'"

It's no secret that Drudge is often the preferred medium for campaigns with opposition research they want to inject into the national conversation, and the Huckabee piece frankly reeks of oppo research, especially as it's a Drudge exclusive, not just a link to a newspaper story. So then the question is just which campaign gave this to Drudge, and the answer seems obvious. As Salon has previously reported, Drudge is particularly close with insiders in the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and it's Romney who comes off best in this particular exclusive from Drudge. As proof of just how easy the Democratic National Committee plans to take it on Huckabee until after he earns the nomination, Drudge offers an accounting of the candidates who have borne the brunt of DNC attack press releases and -- surprise, surprise -- Romney's at the top, while Huckabee's at the bottom. (The folks at the DNC have responded to the item, by the way, and they appear to share our theory as to who's responsible. Communications director Karen Finney told the Politico's Jonathan Martin: "We always appreciate having our hard work noticed, and we know Mitt Romney likes to feel special, but the truth is we've been tracking Huckabee for over a year. The Romney campaign should take heart in the fact that the Drudge Report is buying their spin hook, line and sinker because nothing in that story came from us.")

Moreover, it's Romney who has the most to gain from a halt to Huckabee's rise in the polls. The two occupy the same niche in the campaign; both have targeted Iowa as their key battleground state, and both are relying on the Republican Party's evangelical voters for their base of support. Huckabee seems to be doing better on both fronts. Out of nowhere, he appears to be leading in Iowa and placing second in national polls. That's not proof that the Romney campaign is behind the Drudge dump, but it does provide a motive. And it's not like the Romney campaign is opposed to going negative on Huckabee: It's now running an ad in Iowa drawing a direct comparison between the two former governors, but attacking Huckabee on his immigration record.

With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, is there time for Romney to overcome Huckabee? Maybe, maybe not, but the New York Times' poll-based look at the race today suggests that Romney has some reason for hope. The Times says 60 percent of Republicans are still undecided about Huckabee. And a different poll out from CNN offers Romney and the other GOP contenders one powerful bit of ammunition to use against the new man from Hope: In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Huckabee loses badly -- by double-digit margins -- to all of the three Democratic front-runners.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Matt Drudge Mike Huckabee Mitt Romney War Room