I'm still trying to sort out why I found the exchange on global warming in yesterday's Republican debate so surprising. Was it my imagination, or did the party's leading candidates seem more willing to acknowledge the perils of climate change?

It was their last meeting before the Iowa caucuses on January 3. "I would like to see a show of hands," Des Moines Register Editor Carolyn Washburn began. "How many of you believe global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?" Four of the candidates volunteered that they did.* Senator John McCain, the most fervent advocate for combating climate change among the Republicans, spoke first. Mayor Rudy Giuliani followed him by saying, "I agree with John. Climate change is real. It's happening. I believe human beings are contributing to it. I think the best way to deal with it is through energy independence." Governor Mitt Romney agreed with Giuliani. "We're going to invest in new technologies to get ourselves off of foreign oil," he said, "and as we get ourselves off of foreign oil, we also dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions."

The more I thought about it, though, the more I decided that it was, in fact, my imagination. The New York Times's Mark Santora two months ago reported similar sentiments from Giuliani and Romney. And theirs was not exactly a whole-hearted embrace. Rep. Duncan Hunter noted Giuliani's ambivalence when he parsed the mayor's statement: "But he said 'contributing,' but not totally..." The emphasis on "foreign oil" and "energy independence" is perplexing, too, since America's energy supplies are no cleaner than Saudi Arabia's.

It was Mike Huckabee comments that threw me. He pointed out that the "one of the biggest energy users is in the whole country" is the federal government. "If the government commits to being the primary user of alternative forms of energy, we have a market built in," he said. "The big argument against having alternative energy is there's no market for it. Well, let the government be a marketplace and we'll create the kind of demand that lowers the price rather than raises the price." Arkansas' former governor has taken a page from the global warming plan of virtually every Democratic candidate. (Of course, Huckabee's position isn't new, either. What's new is that Huckabee's views are now worthy of note. In the four most recent polls reported on Real Clear Politics, he leads by anywhere from five to 22 points in Iowa.)

Admittedly, it's a very slender page -- the centerpiece of all the Democratic programs is an ambitious cap-and-trade scheme that most scientists say is the minimum effort needed to reduce carbon emissions. But it might capture the attention of that part of the electorate that's up for grabs.

Agenda reader Charlie believes that "Huckabee is the Clinton's (and soon to be the MSM's) choice for Republicans because he is the one candidate that they are sure she can beat." I don't read the tip sheets closely, but I don't think that's so -- I think they fear him. And if they don't, they should. He is a smooth campaigner, with a gift for turning a phrase (what the Times derisively referred to "his folksy aphorisms" -- that's smugness masking fear, Charlie).

And he sounds a moderate note on many issues that may well appeal to independents and conservative Democrats. Also in yesterday's debate, speaking of education, he said, "I'm a passionate, ardent supporter of having music and art in every school for every student at every grade level" -- a sentiment that will thaw every bleeding heart out there. Later, talking about how he would apply is faith to policy, he said, "you treat others as you wish to be treated. As it relates in health care, that means that we recognize that a person who is sick shouldn't be treated differently because they're in poverty than a person who has extraordinary wealth." And then there was the moment in the YouTube debate when, speaking of providing education benefits to children here illegally, he chided Romney: " In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did."

Now, whether his views are truly moderate is a different question. But they sound so on the surface, and I think we can all agree that elections are often won on the surface.


*And so began the most bizarre moment I've ever seen in a presidential debate. "I'm not doin' hand shows today," was Thompson's response to Washburn's query. Mitt Romney, standing to Thompson's left, immediately put his hand down. Someone, possibly Romney, said, "I'm with him," and Romney began clapping. (The former governor flip-flops again: is he doing a hand show, or is he not doing a hand show?) With that, Thompson led the candidates in a mini-insurrection against the moderator's needlessly rigid rules and schoolmarmish demeanor. "Well, do you want to give me a minute to answer that?" Thompson demanded. "No, I don't," said Washburn. "Well, then I'm not going to answer it," the Tennessean retorted, to a burst of applause. Stammering, Washburn quickly surrendered control of the format.

But perhaps it was all theater. In his October story, the Times' Santora noted that Thompson "does not have a stated position" on global warming. And by the end of the exchange yesterday, he had not offered one.


UPDATE, 10:30 AM FRIDAY: It would appear that the National Review's Rich Lowry disagrees with me. (Well, not with me personally, he doesn't even know me--yet.) But in a column posted at townhall.com, Lowry compares Huckabee to Howard Dean in 2004, in that "his nomination would represent an act of suicide by his party." The complaint is a little shrill. He writes, for instance, "Huckabee not only has zero national-security credentials, he basically has no foreign-policy advisers either." But none of the GOP candidates have any national-security credentials -- they only have postures. And if Huckabee does well in January, he'll have more foreign policy advisers than you can shake a stick at in February. But food for thought for GOPers nonetheless.