Huckabee Gets Momentum; Oprah Helps Obama

New polls have former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee gaining ground among Republican presidential candidates; on the Democratic side, TV host Oprah Winfrey spent the weekend stumping for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts analyzes the presidential races.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NPR's Cokie Roberts has been listening in and joins us for some analysis as she does each Monday morning.

Cokie, Buenos dias.

COKIE ROBERTS: Buenos dias, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: Doing fine, thanks very much.

Didn't hear a lot of fierce rhetoric in that debate.

ROBERTS: No. And I think what we're dealing with here is an interesting phenomenon, which is that the - the basically, the Huckabee factor. Mike Huckabee has really come up in the polls dramatically, and the other candidates went after him hard on immigration, not John McCain, but the others, and it doesn't seem to have hurt him. He's soaring in two new polls in Iowa. Newsweek and the Mason-Dixon poll have him anywhere from 12 to 22 points over Mitt Romney.

Now, it's not about immigration. It's about the fact that he is an Evangelical Christian and those polls were mainly taken before Romney's speech about religion. But it shows that Huckabee is a strong force and the attacks on him about immigration have not worked.

Now, they're going after him, of course, with everything. His record is being scrutinized very carefully. And the question that everybody is asking, at this point, is if his opponents succeed in sullying Huckabee, who's the person who benefits? Is it Romney who absolutely has to win Iowa or is it some other candidate and that we still - remains to be seen?

INSKEEP: And on the Democratic side, it remains to be seen who's really, really got the advantage in Iowa.

ROBERTS: Well, that is fascinating news as well. Barack Obama has been coming up in the polls. In the Newsweek poll, he actually is leading Hillary Clinton above the margin of error, by six points in Iowa. In others, like the Mason-Dixon poll, the three top candidates - the Clinton, Obama - and ever just still tied there, but Obama and Clinton in that poll are also tied in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Now that, Steve, is entirely new, and it's got the Clinton campaign very clearly on the defensive. It's floundering around trying to figure out what to do, win on the attack against Obama, and that didn't seem to work very well for them.

Over the weekend, Senator Clinton brought her mother and her daughter for the first time, Chelsea Clinton, into Iowa to campaign with her for a kinder, gentler sort of image. And of course, she's got Bill Clinton out there on the campaign trail for her as well. But at the moment, she is playing defense big time.

INSKEEP: We should mention that those polls showing Obama very close in key states were taken even before he got what might or might not be a boost. He gathered enormous crowds over the weekend because he was campaigning with Oprah Winfrey, and we have some tape here from a rally yesterday in Columbia, South Carolina.

(Soundbite of NPR recording)

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (TV Host): For the first time, I'm stepping out of my pew because I've been inspired. I've been inspired to believe that a new vision is possible for America.

(Soundbite of cheering)

INSKEEP: Okay, Cokie, she's stepping out of the pew, lots of attention from us, big crowds, but does it really affect the presidential race?

ROBERTS: Well, that's going to be fascinating to see. Big crowds, tens of thousands in Iowa, almost 30,000 in South Carolina with an enormous sign saying CHANGE on it, which is, of course, what voters say they are interested in.

Of course, she's aiming at peeling away women voters from Hillary Clinton, particularly African-American women in South Carolina. And in South Carolina, African-American women make up 30 percent of the primary - Democratic primary voters and they have been leaning strongly to Hillary Clinton.

You know, her rhetoric was very much aimed. It was biblical language. It was aimed at stirring racial hope, and you know, we will learn the effect. But the thing to keep in mind is that the Obama campaign, which is very well organized in Iowa, now has the names and numbers of all of those people who went to those rallies. If they can get even half of them to the caucuses that can make a tremendous difference when January 3rd rolls around.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. Analysis on this Monday morning from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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