Mike Huckabee says he can win it all  

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DALLAS - Nobody in the Republican Party believes a candidate as unabashedly religious as Mike Huckabee can win the Oval Office. Oh, ye of little faith, he admonishes.

"We literally labored for months with no recognition but the laughter of the critics and their scorn," the ordained Baptist minister and ex-pastor told the Daily News before a fund-raising dinner here last week. "But we always thought we'd be here. If I really thought I had no chance I would have just said, 'Let's quit killing ourselves.'

"Now we're still killing ourselves," he added, flashing his trademark "Mayberry RFD" grin. "But it's working!"

Eleven days before Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, the ex-Arkansas governor's faith-based insurgency has stunned the field. Huckabee now leads in Iowa and South Carolina and has vaulted into second place nationally, just behind a sagging Rudy Giuliani.

Although party pros still doubt Huckabee can go all the way, his surge is trouble for Mitt Romney, who's banking on wins in Iowa and New Hampshire five days later to show his Mormon faith won't handicap his claim on the nomination.

"Mike can't win, but he is in the process of becoming a spoiler for Romney," says a senior aide to another GOP contender, with a mix of awe and trepidation.

Romney has launched a furious counterattack, alleging Huckabee pardoned hardened criminals and demanding he apologize for calling President Bush's foreign policy arrogant.

Huckabee is the beneficiary of a GOP electorate largely unenthused with its choices. The vacuum created by late entrant Fred Thompson's dismal showing gave social conservative Huckabee an unexpected opening.

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