Beyond Hillary, Barack, Rudy And John

clockwise from top left: Tom Vilsack, Evan Bayh, Bill Richardson, Newt Gingrich, Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee
By's Amy Sara Clark.

Who's running for president? Just about everyone, it seems. With no incumbent, vice president or other presumed front-runner on either side, the 2008 election is the most "open" since the 1920s, drawing in a plethora of strong hopefuls.

Most of the attention has focused on possible frontrunners such as former Democratic Sen. John Edwards, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and, on the Republican side, Sen. John McCain, Govs. Mitt Romney and George Pataki, and "America's Mayor," Rudolph Giuliani.

Former NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark, Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Sen. Joe Biden, and Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Duncan Hunter are also all either running or considering runs.

But lower on the radar are a swirl of other candidates, declared and still deciding, who could give the top-tier a run for its money.

And one of them could even win. Just think Bill Clinton in 1992 or Jimmy Carter in 1976. Both began the race polling in the single digits.

Here's a look at other candidates worth watching. And you never know, says Democratic pollster Chuck Rund, one of them could "find the right mix of politics and organizational structure and money and a uniqueness and clarity of ideas," that would allow him to climb all the way to the top.

The Republicans:

Mike Huckabee:

Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas comes to the race with three winning assets: he's a governor, a Southerner, and a Baptist minister.

"He's a good speaker, a conservative who could appeal to a broad range in his party," says Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. Plus, Huckabee sides with President Bush on immigration, has mainstream conservative credentials, and, most importantly, holds the state's top office.

The last sitting senator to be elected president was John F. Kennedy, 46 years ago.

Governors are considered more experienced in holding top leadership positions, appear to be free of Washington influence, and perhaps most importantly, there's no congressional voting record to be scrutinized.

But for this election cycle, voters might prefer senators with national and international foreign policy experience.

"For a while it didn't matter very much," says Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. "But we live in a Sept. 12th world now."

Huckabee, 51, has not yet declared, but says he's considering a presidential run.

Huckabee has little experience in foreign policy, but his domestic experience is solid, having served 10 years as governor, three as lieutenant governor and as chairman of the National Governors Association. Huckabee has also worked as a Baptist minister. He is married and has three grown children.

More importantly, Huckabee has the reputation of being a particularly good governor; Time magazine named him one of the five best governors in 2005.

Huckabee is also known for his dedication to physical fitness — both his state's and his own. Dubbed "The Thin Man" by the media, Huckabee dropped from 295 pounds to 185 after learning he had type II diabetes three years ago. In his state, Huckabee has eliminated vending machines from elementary schools and instituted 30-minute daily exercise breaks for state employees. He also co-chairs the national Alliance for a Healthier Generation with Bill Clinton.

But Huckabee brings liabilities to a potential candidacy as well. He's drawn criticism for verbal missteps, including jokingly referring to his weight loss as due to "six weeks at a concentration camp" and for calling his state a "banana republic." He has also been cited for five violations by the Arkansas Ethics Commission, all dealing with not reporting gifts or cash.

So far, Huckabee is not doing too well in the polls — when he shows up in a national poll at all, he hovers between 1 and 2 percent.

Iowa and New Hampshire focus groups last summer said Huckabee was likable but lacked passion, says Steve Hinkson, political director of Luntz Research Companies, which did the study. "It's a serious time and the voters appreciate that. … He's a serious guy but his intensity doesn't necessarily come across."

But Huckabee's greatest roadblock will probably not be a lack of passion but money.

"I'm not sure if he can raise any money," says Rothenberg. "Nobody knows who he is."

Sam Brownback:

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is hoping to gain leverage by appealing to the conservative wing of his party, and there's a good chance he'll succeed. Front-runners Giuliani and Pataki support gay and abortion rights. McCain voted against a ban on gay marriage, and although Romney opposes abortion now, he's supported it in the past.

"The key is who fills the vacuum?" says Rothenberg. This year, "a big vacuum on the Republican side is for the evangelical social conservatives. ... He's the most plausible candidate from the right."

An evangelical Christian who converted to Catholicism, Brownback, 50, is against abortion rights and gay marriage, and, according to his Web site, for "market- and consumer-based solutions to health care reform," and an optional flat tax. He is against judges who "legislate from the bench," and for "protecting American culture."

According to a Pew Research Study, 23 percent of Republicans are white evangelical Protestants, 78 percent of which voted for Mr. Bush in 2004.

Like Huckabee, Brownback has yet to declare a presidential bid or make a mark in national polls (or even beat 3 percent). He is married with five children, the youngest two adopted; one from China and the other from Guatemala.

The Luntz focus groups found Brownback to be "clean-cut, honest, and clear about where he stands," but also saw him as a bit too "soft-spoken" and "passive."

Newt Gingrich:

As architect of the Contract with America that led the Republicans to take back the House in 1994, Newt Gingrich is the best-known of the second-tier candidates.

"He's not a frontrunner," says Republican pollster Linda DiVall, but "given his past stature in the party," and his reputation as someone with big ideas, she says, "he's going to be hard to ignore."

A Dec. 5-7 CNN poll had Gingrich at third at 13 percent, right after Giuliani and McCain.

Gingrich also did surprisingly well in Luntz's focus groups, says Hinkson, falling near the top of the list. Most telling, participants' approval ratings shot up after they had seen video clips of him speaking. "They thought that he was dead on with some of the challenges America is faces," Hinkson said.

"He's got good name recognition, is a good speaker, a lot of Republicans think he's a good motivator," says Rothenberg. But he adds, "I'm sure critics and opponents will raise questions about ethics and things in his public and private life."

Gingrich, 66, who is married to his third wife and has two daughters from his first marriage, was elected as a representative from Georgia in 1978. He served as House Speaker from 1995 through 1999, when he resigned his seat under pressure after a poor Republican showing in the midterm elections.

In 1997, Gingrich was investigated by the House Ethics Committee. He calls the 84 charges groundless, and they were dismissed, but Gingrich agreed to reimburse the Ethics Committee $300,000 for the cost of the investigation.

But Hinkson said that Gingrich's ethical issues didn't seem to bother his focus group participants. "I think that voters don't really remember the Newt of the '90s, don't remember the corruption and malfeasance associated with him. And even when they were reminded, it didn't make much of a dent. There's so much (corruption) now, and it happened so long ago," he said.

Plus, says Rund, citing Bill Clinton as an example, "The American public has a forgiving mind."

That Gingrich practically bubbles over with passion and ideas will play especially well in the primaries and caucuses, which tend to attract "hard-core political junkies who are better educated and like ideas," says Mark Blumenthal, aka Mysterypollster, editor of

"In New Hampshire," he adds, "if you go up with a bunch of white papers, there are going to be a lot of takers."