HENNIKER, NH – Mike Huckabee and his BFF Chuck Norris ambled into this town west of Manchester on Friday afternoon, into the smallish gymnasium of New England College. I was looking for signs of a slapdash Huckabee organization, and I found them. Activists for pesky issue groups like Divided We Fail and Clean Energy for America and Make Global Warming a Priority brought signs into the gym and held them high for the cameras — Obama had avoided scenes like this by barring signs from being brought into his events. The posters pointing people inside were chintzy, printed on color laser printers (with white paper visible around the image) and stuck on doors with scotch tape. Reporters and voters trudged around on a vinyl mat meant to keep the floor clean,

The thing is that all of this fit the event perfectly: Huckabee's populism wouldn't be as credible if his event didn't look so ad hoc. Timothy Egan pointed this out a little while ago, arguing that it was an act that covered up the candidate's ego and high living. But it sounds credible because Huckabee really is a populist. This video from the rally shows Chuck Norris introducing the candidate with a whine about how big corporations and celebrities like him don't pay their fair share of taxes. You know who else makes that argument? Bill Clinton.

I detected a different tone to Huckabee's rhetoric than the tone he used in Iowa. Simply put, he's trying to sound like a Free Stater. And it isn't convincing. His education solution was a return to "this thing called the 10th Amendment" and local schooling. His health care solution: "I don't trust the government or the insurance companies." If you've been watching Ron Paul's ads, that will ring a bell. The next line on health care was a howler: "You live your life however you want. I'm not going to tell you how to live. That's not my plan." So says the candidate who favors a national smoking ban.

On the military: "I want our armed forces beefed up to the point that they're Chuck Norris approved."

Huckabee's crowd was modest, good enough to fill a small college's gym (your high school's gym was probably comparable), a sign that he doesn't have enough support to break into the McCain-Romney race for first. The voters who did show up, though (they trickled in for more than an hour after the event kicked off) were moved and devoted to their guy, worshipful in a way only McCain and Paul fans have been worshipful. "The best thing I can say about him is that I could introduce him as my father and be proud to show him off," said committed Huckabe backer Susie Prescott.