DES MOINES, Iowa -- Mike Huckabee had hoped to coast through the summer with a run for president in his back pocket.
Michele Bachmann just picked it.
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and has not been taken all that seriously as a potential candidate in 2012 thus far, mostly because he has indicated little appetite for it. But his polling numbers – a Gallup survey released Friday showed him leading 10 other potential GOP candidates with 19 percent support – and the fact that he continues to lead in many polls is forcing the political world to take a Huckabee bid seriously.
Bob Vander Plaats, the Iowa political activist who was state chair of Huckabee’s campaign here in 2008, talks regularly with him. Huckabee, he said, is thinking seriously about a run.
“Anybody who reads the polls and thinks Huckabee is not seriously considering getting in this race is absolutely nuts,” Vander Plaats said in an interview.
But Huckabee has not been in any rush to decide. One influential Iowa Republican official said he thought Huckabee wanted to wait until September.
Bachmann complicates that picture. The Minnesota congresswoman has made her intention to launch a campaign clear this week, indicating that she could form an exploratory committee in June or earlier.
Bachmann’s dynamic and controversial presence in the primary could cut into the support of a few other Republicans, namely former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
But she poses a unique problem for Huckabee, drawing as she does from the same pool of voters that propelled Huckabee in 2008. A Republican operative here said Bachmann is an improvement on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin because she has the “fortitude and stick-to-itiveness” that Palin does not.
Even Vander Plaats, who is hard at work touring all of the state’s 99 counties compiling a database of names and e-mail addresses that he could turn over to Huckabee – or to Bachmann if Huckabee did not run – had high praise for her.
“She’s going to be 100 percent conservative. I don’t think we’d ever have to worry about her core values or convictions. And she just wants to do what’s best for the country. So I think that’s compelling,” he said.
In addition, Bachmann’s hiring of state Sen. Kent Sorenson to be her state director means that at the local level, those who may have served as precinct chairs or volunteers for Huckabee in the past will likely be getting requests to work for the congresswoman instead soon. Sorenson’s base in Iowa is made up of some of the most fervent primary voters; he recently sponsored a bill that would require presidential candidates to provide a birth certificate to be eligible.
Sorenson was seen showing Bachmann around the state House floor earlier this week, introducing her to Republican legislators. And he was with her Thursday night after her speech to a pastor’s group, as the congresswoman stood and took photos with a line of several dozen people -- who all gave their e-mail addresses to Bachmann aides for the favor.
And of course there is the fact that Bachmann raised $13.5 million for her reelection in the House, a huge sum by any means, and did so in a noncompetitive race. Much of that money remains unspent.
If Huckabee were to wait too long and then jump in to the race, he could suffer the same fate of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson in 2008. Thompson’s name was floated for a long time, but he dithered, and potential supporters lost patience and moved on, taking the air out of his candidacy.
Bob Haus, who ran Thompson’s Iowa campaign in 2008, sees the parallel.
“I’ve seen it happen before,” Haus said. “Thompson had that potential. It was just laying there. Had Thompson executed maximum pressure on the ground, he would have blunted that Huckabee growth.”