03/28/2008 02:47 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Growing Pains: Inside Huckabee's Iowa Surge

The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.

Des Moines, Iowa---Mike Huckabee's getting all the sugar these days in Iowa - big poll numbers and an adoring press singing his praises. As the insurgent candidate in this GOP race, Mike Huckabee, has captured 29% of likely caucus goers who prefer him as their first choice, according to the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll.

While his main competition -- Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani -- continue their precipitous fall into the slippery underworld of pollster doom-and-gloom, the ever smiling, guitar strumming former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee is starting to turn heads.

However his recent fame and reversal of fortunes hasn't been a seamless transition for his small state staff and under-funded campaign.

"I'm not the cruise director for Love Boat!" said an exasperated Eric Woolson, Iowa Campaign Manager for Mike Huckabee.

It is past 10 o'clock at night and Woolson is calling me from his cell phone in the car, explaining his logistical problems tomorrow as he tries to shuffle a large retinue of reporters to an early morning event in nearby Newton on Tuesday.

"I just couldn't find a van to rent. No vans in Des Moines. Can you believe that? Sorry, but you'll have to drive yourself to the event," says Woolson.

"My Blackberry messages are filled. My office cell phone messages are full. My personal email messages are full. It's a good thing you left a message for me with the receptionist. The press dinner tomorrow night is totally out of hand. Instead of a small group of 10-12 journalists, it's grown to about thirty," said Woolson, his voice a bit hoarse after talking as much as his candidate on this cold Midwestern day of campaigning. He sounded tired.

"Did you see Huck on TV?" asked Woolson.

"How can you avoid him?" I respond. "He was featured in a segment with Anderson Cooper tonight."

"He was?" asked Woolson. "I missed it. I've been with Huck all day and I have to pick him up in another 30 minutes. Are you coming to the press conference tomorrow?"

"Not unless I'm going to the press dinner tomorrow night!"

[Woolson laughs] "One more won't hurt."

Mitt Romney's travels around the state garner less press notice than last summer when he was "the inevitable presidential nominee" for the GOP ticket, and now Woolson is in the enviable position of organizing a thirty to forty member press pack stuck to Huckabee like flees on a barn cat.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee ('Huck' to friends) is back in Iowa for two days this week, followed by local, national, and even, international press.

"The usual suspects were all there today," said Woolson.

"The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Des Moines Register, NPR, NBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, and even an Irish television crew along with diplomats from the German and French consulates. The Dutch reporters are coming in tomorrow."

There was a time, not so long ago, when I'd drive by the Huckabee for President Headquarters located in downtown Des Moines on the corner of 6th & Locust Avenue. It was always late at night and I could see Woolson through the large windows.

He was sitting at his desk - alone - usually typing at his computer. No other staffers were there. No phone call center teaming with young volunteers. But now, the office is filled to capacity. Volunteers and a few more staffers are answering ringing telephones, making copies, and handing out press releases and printed literature. Television ads went up two weeks ago and radio spots hit today.

I reminded Woolson of those days in mid-summer, before the Iowa Straw Poll, and even through most of the fall.

"Yeah, those were lonely days - and nights," said Woolson.

Seemingly everyone's in love with Huck these days, especially the social conservatives who are less than comfortable with Mitt Romney's brand of Christianity or a twice divorced, thrice married Rudy Giuliani and his former liberal views.

It's not just Evangelicals who want some of the 'Huck' love. The press is clambering for interviews. Other social conservative groups are banging on the door. Woolson says he's been fielding calls from the homeschoolers today.

"We're trying to break out of that narrative," says Woolson.

"As the person in charge of strategy, we have to have crossover appeal and that is starting to happen. One guy in Newton (a small town about 30 minutes from Des Moines) told me that he's switching party affiliation and caucusing for Huck. That's what I want to hear."

Woolson's main job is to organize all 99 counties in the state, guaranteeing Huckabee supporters attend the 1784 precinct caucus meetings. It's a big job and Woolson is committed to the cause.

Woolson says he has field organizers out around the state but no field offices, unlike the heavily financed top tier of the Democratic Party candidates, who have field offices scattered throughout the state and as many as 500 staffers managing the offices.

Just as Huckabee has turned out to be an effective retail politician, he has recruited a crack team of close confidants in his ambitious goal to win the White House and many have been with him since his days as governor. Woolson is an exception.

Woolson is one of those experienced Iowa pols who know where the bodies - and the votes - are buried in this state. He was GW Bush's Iowa press secretary in 2000 and he's worked on a half dozen statewide campaigns before and since. He was a respected political journalist before his current campaign career.

When Huckabee was considering a presidential run last February, Woolson was one of the twelve people he invited down to Little Rock to 'discuss' his chances. Woolson met Huckabee years ago when he was showing him around the state during a Governor's Conference. Huckabee sent Woolson a handwritten letter thanking him.

"I was impressed," said Woolson. "He really is a nice guy and that's part of why he's appealing to voters."

Yep. It's that old likeability factor that Woolson first noticed - and remembered - that is compelling Iowans - and GOP voters around the country - to jump ship from other candidates like Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, who appear either too slick and inauthentic or too thuggish and angry.

The latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shocked the nation when Huckabee, running on a shoestring budget, outdistanced Mitt Romney, who has spent million dollars and devoted most of his time campaigning in Iowa, expecting to be crowned on caucus night.

The latest Rasmussen Poll shows Huckabee in second place nationally and he's tied for 3rd in New Hampshire. All the good poll numbers have raised Huckabee's chances for raising more money, especially if he can pull off a win here on January 3

"But can you raise the money to run a viable national campaign?" I asked Woolson.

"I'm so tired of that question. About seven or eight times a day, some reporter asks if we've got the money to stay in this race. Listen, we raised $2 million last month just online! If we have a good showing here, we'll raise the money."

Woolson admitted that the race between Huckabee and Romney in Iowa is still too close to call.

"The race is just too fluid. We'll know on January 3 who wins Iowa. After that, the real work starts," said Woolson.

It's doubtful that few, if any liberal Democrats will caucus or pull the voting lever for someone like Huckabee, a diehard social conservative -- anti-choice, pro-creationist, pro-national sales tax, and wanting to eliminate the IRS -- but the GOP may have found their beloved in a former governor born in the little town of Hope, Arkansas.

Stranger things have happened.