Mike Huckabee rubs his throat and knows there's trouble.

It's a recent Friday morning -- his birthday, no less -- and the presidential candidate is ill, shuffling down the carpeted hallways of an Indianapolis hotel.

On his way to meet an influential Indiana politician, Huckabee coughs and turns a corner, past hotel maids who pay him no notice. As he reaches the elevator, a group of passing twentysomethings ignores the man who just finished second at the Republican Party of Iowa Straw Poll.

Third floor, please.

The straw poll showing surprised nearly everyone, including the campaign, which had privately predicted a fourth-place finish -- a result that probably would have driven him from the race. Instead, Team Huckabee treated second place like a win, and the long-shot former governor of Arkansas lived to campaign another day.

With the Iowa "victory" came the free media attention, which is exactly what Huckabee needed: Of all the skills this governor-rocker-preacher possesses, none is as notable as his ability to talk with intelligence, clarity and humor, often in the same sentence.

"A Republican in my state feels about as out of place as Michael Vick at the Westminster Dog Show," Huckabee said recently in his typical folksy, simile-injected style.

"We have a Congress that spends money like John Edwards at a beauty shop."

Have tongue, will travel. A healthy Huckabee delivers such lines anywhere, any time. Consider: Before Indy he had campaigned the last five days in New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, back to South Carolina and across to Missouri, before arriving in Indiana.

Thus, Huckabee is exhausted in Indianapolis; and like any good pastor, he knows the signs of a throat in jeopardy, a voice in retreat.

"Once you feel the adenoids swelling, you've got to take action," he says softly.

Mike Huckabee has been professionally losing his voice since 1969, when at 14, he ruled the Hope, Ark., airwaves as a disc jockey for KXAR, "1490 on your AM dial."

There at the town's lone local radio station Huckabee spun country music 45s, read the farm report and broadcast his thoughts on sports, church, high school -- anything to fill the airtime.

It was the first of many jobs where Huckabee was the man in charge -- the singular voice behind the microphone. In high school, he led his classmates as student council president. In Baptist churches, he led his congregations as pastor. Even in politics, he's only held executive positions -- never once has he sat on a city council or in a state legislature.

Huckabee's critics point to this record and see why they consider him an affable control freak, unable to trust anyone but himself. Huckabee counters that he simply believes in his convictions and God above.

"I'm not a consultant-driven candidate," he said recently in his spartan Little Rock headquarters.

Later, when asked to name a single senior adviser who helps form his policies, Huckabee glanced over his shoulder and deadpanned back with a face that said, "You're looking at him."

He then belly-laughed with ease.

A place called Hope