Iowa hysteria is mounting as the sleeps tick over to the big D Day of the primaries.

Former Baptist preacher, and Republican presidental hopeful, Mike Huckabee has been dominating the headlines, and not just because everyone loves saying his name. And where once the wonks would have sworn that Hillary had the corn fed state in the bag, Obama, with Oprah in tow, is steadily gaining ground. Meanwhile, political writers are still all in a tizz over Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, as he nabs the dubious distinction of launching the campaign’s first attack ad, and a God-off, with rival Huckabee.

Crikey checked in on the candidates currently dominating the news cycle:

MIKE HUCKABEE: The deeply religious Mike Huckabee — a cultural conservative — might not seem a likely bet with a college crowd, writes Ben Adler in Politico, but that would be underestimating the man. “Much like their elders, the young and politically restless appreciate a genial personality (regardless of politics), straight talk on issues that uniquely affect them and a speech that won’t put them to sleep,” says Adler. And Huckabee had the crowds going wild at a recent college visit. “Huckabee, known for his staunchly conservative positions on social issues — he opposes civil unions for gay couples and funding for embryonic stem cell research — might have been anathema to many young voters, especially those famously libertarian New Hampshirites. But he was warmly received.”

Another reason why you shouldn’t dismiss the man who Frank Rich in The New York Times has labelled the “Republican’s Obama.”

“Huckabee’s political views are well within the mainstream of American politics,” writes Jim Pinkerton in Newsday. “Elected four times statewide in Arkansas, by the same voters who had earlier elected and re-elected Bill Clinton, Huckabee was governor of the Razorback State for nearly 11 years.”

But according to new rumours dutifully published on Drudge, Democrat party officials are “avoiding any and all criticism” of the Republican presidential contender. “The Democratic National Committee has told staffers to hold all fire, until he secures the party’s nomination. The directive has come down from the highest levels within the party, according to a top source. Within the DNC, Huckabee is known as the “glass jaw — and they’re just waiting to break it.”

Forget the glass jaw, says Wonkette, just run this fat Huckabee family photo under the photocopier:

Maybe Mike should send his celebrity endorsee/martial arts movie star Chuck Norris in to sort them out.

MITT ROMNEY: But resident mormon Mitt Romney isn’t scared of Chuck, he’s more alarmed at signs that Huckabee is successfully rallying the evangelical base — and has hit back by launching the campaign’s first attack ad, reports The Los Angeles Times.

In another sign that the issue of immigration is set to dog this campaign, the ad slams Huckabee on immigration in a bid to break the sharp rise in the polls of Romney’s rival. “Huckabee’s surge is especially threatening to Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has long hoped his rightward tilt would appeal to evangelicals despite their often skeptical view of his Mormon faith,” says the LA Times.

It’s shaping up to be a Republican religion-fight. “This is high-voltage, and faith and morality are likely to be major issues in political debate in the weeks between now and the first engagements of 2008,” writes Pat Buchanan in RealClearPolitics

RUDY GUILIANI:  Republican front runner Rudy Guiliani has hit a bumpy patch. The former New York Mayor’s “quest for the Republican presidential nomination is running into turbulence,” writes Jonathan Kaufman in The Wall Street Journal. After selling himself more successfully than many expected, Guiliani’s lead in national polls is narrowing. “He could lose four early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina — before reaching more favorable territory, such as Florida, New York and California. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s surge is rallying evangelicals and social conservatives who up until now have been divided and dispirited. The business dealings of Mr. Giuliani’s company are under increasing scrutiny.”

HILLARY CLINTON: It would be kind of handy for the Clinton camp to lose Iowa, argues The New York Observer, “what a perfect set-up for a dramatic, bounce-back victory — the kind that would allow her to lay claim to the same “Comeback Kid” mantle her husband seized 16 years ago.”

And the scene of her triumph? New Hampshire, of course, “New Hampshire is the ideal place for Mrs. Clinton to make a stand, and her campaign has known it from Day One. Geographically compact and home to a Democratic primary universe of perhaps 200,000, it is a state where personal connections are critical to any campaign. The Clinton Machine has masterfully exploited its star power and perceived inevitability to dazzle and overwhelm the locals.”

But given that Hillary does get the gig, has anyone thought properly about “having two presidents in the White House who are married to each other?” asks Sally Bedell Smith in The Wall Street Journal. “Many voters, especially Democrats, would welcome Mr. Clinton’s experience as a great asset to his wife’s administration. But given the Clintons’ long history of close consultation, their partnership could end up distorting the way the executive branch is supposed to function — regardless of the talents each of them might bring to the White House.” But who would really wear the pants? The Journal can’t say — the “Clinton pairing is such a is such a deeply entwined political duopoly that “it has always been hard to distinguish who played what role,” according to their longtime friend Mickey Kantor.”

BARACK OBAMA: Even with the big O signed up to the cause, is “it foolish to think that a nation stained by centuries of slavery and racism is prepared to elect a black president?” asks Eugene Robinson on RealClearPolitics. “Rarely phrased so bluntly, that’s the central question posed by Barack Obama’s candidacy — especially for many African-American voters, whose doubts are informed by having seen many an oasis turn out to be a mirage.” Some, including black Democrats, believe it’s too soon — “there are senior black Democrats who can barely hide their exasperation at Obama’s success, which they see as a mortal threat to a Democratic victory in November. Andrew Young is the latest to go public with his pique, saying in remarks reported during the weekend that he wants Obama to be president, but not until 2016.”