When the calendar turns to 2008 in a few days, the race to elect our next president will intensify.
On Jan. 3, Iowa will hold its caucuses, and the candidates who do well there will pick up substantial momentum as they head into primaries in the coming weeks.
There will be little margin for error because this is the most front loaded primary season there has ever been. For example, more than 20 states will hold their primaries on Feb. 5 (including Tennessee).
To this point, the most interesting aspect of the race has been watching the rising and falling of candidates in the polls.
There is way too much emphasis put on polls during an election season, especially the general national polls that the mainstream media report the most. National polls really don't mean much because we don't elect a president (or a nominee for the two major parties) through a general national vote.
To use polls more effectively, it is important to look at the race on a state by state basis.
In reviewing the polls in Iowa in the last several weeks, the most interesting story has been the emergence of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a major player.
For months, he languished in the single digits of most polls as he methodically got his face in front of the voters in that state. That has changed in the last several weeks as he has surged toward the top of most polls taken there.
When this happened, everything changed for his campaign. More money flowed in, the major television networks became more interested in putting him on their shows, and voters began listening a little more closely to what he had to say.
However, there was one specific moment when it became apparent that Huckabee had truly arrived as a candidate with a chance to win. This occurred when all the other Republican candidates took aim at him and began to criticize him.
After all, candidates don't typically start ripping someone until they view him as a threat. Until a few weeks ago, Republicans treated Huckabee as nothing more than a pesky fly that needed to be swatted away every now and then.
Now, folks are coming after him with a big can of Raid.
For example, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attacked his record on taxes while he was Arkansas governor and implied that he was soft on crime and immigration.
Independent groups attacked him before Christmas for a television commercial he made that invoked the birth of Christ.
I guess this is an example of how politics is different than most other aspects of life.
In most areas of life, the stature of a person is often confirmed by how good his reputation is and the good comments people make about him.
However, in a political campaign, we can measure how popular a candidate is by all the negative things that are said about him. For Huckabee, he was just another likeable guy until he got popular then the big guns got unloaded on him.
For a long time, I didn't understand why presidential candidates put themselves through the meat grinder of negativity that they have to go through to win that office. It seemed like too big a sacrifice to me.
Finally, it dawned on me that all this negativity was a stamp of approval that a candidate had arrived as a genuine political force. After all, the measure of a candidate can many times be made by understanding who his critics are and how they criticize him.
As for Huckabee, please don't misinterpret this posting as an endorsement of him in any way. I don't publicly support candidates anymore. I don't put signs in my yard telling my neighbors who to vote for. I don't contribute money to campaigns. I only advocate that people study the candidates so they can make an informed vote.
It's just that watching the rise of Huckabee recently has been fascinating. In most campaigns, an unknown comes from out of the pack to create drama for a little while.
Will Huckabee be able to sustain his momentum? We'll find out starting Jan. 3.