Veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins has been named the new national campaign chairman and senior adviser for Mike Huckabee, lending credibility and experience to his surging presidential campaign.
Rollins, who most famously directed Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign and helped the former president carry 49 states, said Friday at an announcement in Concord, N.H., that Huckabee was the candidate who most reminded him of Reagan.
"Gov. Huckabee has probably inspired me as much as Ronald Reagan ... he can connect with ordinary voters," Rollins said. "I was with the old Reagan and I can promise you this man comes as close as anyone to filling those shoes."
The Reagan comments could be a shot across the bow for Republican rival Mitt Romney, who frequently invokes Reagan principles on the campaign trail.
Rollins joins a campaign that initially seemed unprepared to handle the sudden popularity. Only weeks ago the biggest names Huckabee carried with him on the trail were actor Chuck Norris and wrestler Ric Flair.
Rollins said Huckabee was the candidate about whom he knew the least going into the race, but that his underfunded, non-establishment campaign inspired him and that he now will fill in the gaps.
"We’re going to build an infrastructure that once this great momentum moves forward, it won't get sunk by lack of infrastructure. I think that's the key challenge," Rollins said.
Rollins previously served in the administrations of Reagan and Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon.
He also temporarily ran the 1992 independent presidential campaign of Ross Perot but later resigned. He then led the successful campaign of former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 1993.
Rollins stirred controversy after the Whitman victory when he said the campaign spent a half-million dollars to suppress the black vote. He later recanted.
"Sometimes I've been too candid," Rollins said Friday. "I'd much rather be honest with you and tell you what's going on."
Huckabee said Rollins would take the campaign "to the next level and to the next step."
The Rollins announcement comes as the former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher translates his leap in early voting states into a foothold nationally.
An American Research Group poll from Dec. 9 to Dec. 12 of 600 likely Republican primary voters showed Huckabee tied at 21 percent nationally with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The margin of error was 4 percent.
A new Rasmussen poll also showed Huckabee overtaking Giuliani and Romney in Florida. The poll showed Huckabee with 27 percent, Romney with 23 percent and Giuliani with 19 percent.
As Huckabee's new frontrunner status makes him a target for criticism, Rollins warned of the tone to come Friday.
"Everything you've ever done as a governor, everything you've ever done as a preacher will be looked at, as it should be."
FOX News' Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.