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Huckabee vaults into lead among Georgia Republicans
New polls find Clinton holding top spot for Dems

ATLANTA - Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee's surprising surge nationally is being reflected in Georgia.

A poll released Wednesday by Atlanta-based Strategic Vision shows the former Arkansas governor in the lead among likely voters in Georgia's Feb. 5 GOP primary.

After polling in the single digits in last month's survey by the Republican-leaning public affairs firm, Huckabee was the choice of 23 percent of likely primary voters interviewed by telephone from Dec. 7 through 9.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who was in first place among Georgia Republicans even before he entered the race last September, fell to second at 20 percent.

On the Democratic side, according to the poll, New York Sen. and former first lady Hillary Clinton continued to hold a solid lead among likely primary voters. She led Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, 34 percent to 27 percent.

The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Huckabee and Thompson have been vying in Georgia and other states for the support of conservative Republicans who see former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain as too moderate.

Indeed, Huckabee appears to be picking up much of his newly won support in Georgia at Thompson's expense, said Shawn Davis, Huckabee's Georgia spokesman.

"The poll would suggest some folks got on Thompson early, but they saw him not gaining any traction," Davis said. "They're looking for a viable conservative."

Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University, said Huckabee is more of a natural choice for the religious conservatives who make up a large portion of Georgia's Republican electorate.

"He's a Baptist minister, an evangelical Christian," Black said. "Thompson doesn't go to church. It's not clear how important religion is to him."

Georgia Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, state director for the Thompson campaign, conceded that Huckabee has been delivering an effective message to social conservatives.

But Rogers said his candidate wins in a comparison over who is more fiscally conservative. Huckabee has come under fire for raising taxes during two terms as governor.

"His record indicates he's been moderate at best on a lot of the fiscal issues," Rogers said.

But Davis said Huckabee cut taxes more than 90 times as Arkansas' chief executive.

"There's enough there for economic conservatives to support Huckabee," he said.

Black said it's too early to anoint either Huckabee or Clinton winners of the Georgia primaries. He said that, in both races, a lot will depend on what happens next month in the early primary states.

Black said that whoever wins South Carolina's Democratic primary Jan. 26 will gain a late advantage in Georgia. African-American voters make up a huge percentage of the Democratic electorate in both states and, thus, will play a decisive role.

SideBar: Poll Results

Here are the results of a poll of likely Georgia presidential primary voters released Wednesday by Atlanta-based Strategic Vision:

REPUBLICAN

Mike Huckabee, 23 percent

Fred Thompson, 20 percent

Rudy Giuliani, 17 percent

John McCain, 11 percent

Mitt Romney, 10 percent

Ron Paul, 4 percent

Tom Tancredo, 2 percent

Duncan Hunter, 1 percent

Undecided, 12 percent

DEMOCRAT

Hillary Clinton, 34 percent

Barack Obama, 27 percent

John Edwards, 12 percent

Bill Richardson, 5 percent

Joseph Biden, 2 percent

Christopher Dodd, 1 percent

Dennis Kucinich, 1 percent

Undecided, 18 percent