SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee would seem to be the answer to their prayers, yet for many Christian conservatives in Iowa, he has not closed the deal for the Republican caucuses.
Do they still like Mitt Romney? Are they intrigued by Fred Thompson? As always, voter uncertainty comes with the Jan. 3 caucuses, now just a week away.
Huckabee, the former Baptist minister, is leading in the Republican polls here, though his advantage has narrowed. Perhaps, that's due in part to the negative TV commercials Romney is airing.
"I think I'm leaning toward Governor Huckabee," says Lori Brown, who works at an accounting firm in Sheldon. "I guess I'm not sure who else I really like. But he seems to be just a real guy. I'm a Christian, too, so I see eye-to-eye with him.
"At this point."
On Huckabee's final swing through Iowa before Christmas, many found him funny and charming, especially when he borrowed a bass guitar to play "Takin' Care of Business" in the Sioux City High School auditorium.
"I thought he did a good job of emotionally connecting," said Michael Andres, a college theology professor in Orange City. Andres is "warming to Huckabee," although he has also been interested in Arizona Sen. John McCain among the Republicans and in Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.
"I didn't know if there was a whole lot of substance," Andres said of Huckabee. "He didn't explain what he was going to do. I felt like he spent a lot of time separating himself from Romney."
Huckabee is spending time responding to criticism from Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has flooded people's mailboxes, telephones and televisions with negative information about the former Arkansas governor's record on immigration and other issues. Romney has spent millions of dollars pumping up his own profile and organizing supporters.
Huckabee tells audiences he is being outspent 20-to-1 by Romney. In Orange City, he joked about mailboxes stuffed full of campaign mailings: "I know you normally look forward to Christmas cards this time of year. This time, you go and - 'Huckabee's a bum, Huckabee's a bum, Huckabee's a bum, Huckabee's a bum.' "
"My wife could've told you that and saved the postage," he said, to laughter.
But some of the criticism is sticking.
Of Romney, retiree Judie Cain of Council Bluffs, Iowa, says, "I like his take on immigration."
"I'm on Social Security now, and I don't like the idea that it's going to immigrants when I paid in it all my life, and they just swam across," says Cain. In fact, only legal immigrants are entitled to Social Security benefits, and illegal immigrants pay millions of dollars a year in Social Security taxes.
"Now, I know Huckabee is probably a good candidate, too, but I don't think he's as intelligent," she said.
Thompson, the "Law & Order" actor and former Tennessee senator, has the most ground to cover because of his late, sluggish entry to the race.