In 2008 and 2012, the above-average number of evangelical voters in the Iowa caucuses allowed culturally conservative candidates like Mr. Huckabee and Rick Santorum to win. In 2008, Mr. Huckabee won 46 percent of evangelical voters, and early polls suggest he has substantial support again. He has received little news media coverage, but his share of the vote has been good for second place in an average of recent Iowa polls,including the lead in an NBC/Marist poll conducted in early February
A conservative candidate who hopes to win Iowa, like Mr. Cruz or Scott Walker, needs a substantial chunk of the evangelical vote. If Mr. Huckabee enters the race, he could pose a big roadblock to both. Even if he doesn’t win, he will make it easier for a relatively secular conservative candidate to win than has been the case in recent contests. And if Mr. Huckabee does win — as he very plausibly could over a strong, divided field — he will deny a more viable conservative candidate the easiest opportunity to consolidate the conservative opposition to Jeb Bush, or whoever wins New Hampshire.
It is unlikely that Mr. Huckabee could ever appeal to the relatively secular half of the Republican Party. He has adopted an increasingly strident tone on cultural issues and is strongly opposed by many fiscal conservatives, who have criticized him for raising taxes, increasing spending and opposing school vouchers as governor of Arkansas. The Club for Growthvowed to fight his candidacy.
In the terms of our taxonomy of Republican candidates from a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Huckabee is a classic factional candidate: someone whom the rest of the party would almost certainly rally to defeat if he seemed within striking distance of the nomination, but whose strength among a large faction of the party allows him to play a crucial, even possibly decisive, role in the race.