Has the GOP’s evangelical candidate emerged?

gov mike huckabeeStrumming his guitar to a second-place finish in the silly Iowa straw poll this past weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has alerted political reporters that evangelicals aren’t to be discounted as a voting bloc in the 2008 presidential election. Reporters covering the GOP side of the campaign were all set to discount evangelicals.

The top-tier candidates according to national polls — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson (John McCain has all but been written off due to his dramatic fall) — fall short of the ideal candidate for evangelicals, which makes the idea of the “perfect” evangelical candidate in Huckabee all the more compelling.

These straw polls are less a measure of a candidate’s popularity than of ability to organize support in Iowa. Much is being made of Huckabee’s not paying for busloads of supporters and of his support coming from the grassroots in Iowa. Thanks to Romney’s caravan of buses, most media organizations are placing little credibility in his first-place finish with 32 percent of the vote (Huckabee finishes second at 18 percent). But did someone else organize Huckabee’s busloads?

All this leads to The Wall Street Journal‘s hypothesis that Huckabee won the day by coming in second:

The biggest winner of Iowa Republicans’ weekend straw poll of 11 presidential rivals may well turn out to be not Mitt Romney, whose first-place finish here was expected, but surprise runner-up Mike Huckabee, the guitar-picking former governor of Arkansas.

Should Mr. Huckabee capitalize on his second-place showing here Saturday to get a second look from demoralized Republicans unhappy with their choices — and to get much-needed funding — the repercussions could reshuffle the party’s contest for its 2008 nomination. Social conservatives, who have come to dominate the Republican Party, could decide the candidate they have been looking for has been in the race the whole time, languishing at the back of the pack with little money to promote himself.

Everyone seems to be writing off “the other” evangelical candidate, Sen. Sam Brownback, but as Noam Scheiber notes, combine Brownback’s support with Huckabee and you have a hardy 33 percent of the day’s vote beating Romney. But don’t expect the two candidates to come together for a common purpose anytime soon.

The New York Times seems to think that Huckabee’s success is related to his joking his way to the second-place victory. I’m sure voters appreciate Huckabee’s sense of humor, but these straw polls have more to do with buses than with candidates’ personalities.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic seems to have some evidence that Huckabee was provided some buses by nonw other than home-schooling advocate Michael Farris, founder of Patrick Henry College:

Here’s another source of Huckabee’s strength: home schoolers. It’s true — a campaign tells me that national home school advocate Michael Farris helped to organize a train of car poolers for Iowa homeschools and points out that Huckabee had two breakfast meetings on Saturday morning with some of his more ardent home-school-parent supporters.

Beliefnet’s David Kuo sees Huckabee as the candidate who will bring together a new evangelical coalition. Kuo adds: “Christians increasingly see him as a ‘real’ Christian — not just one made to sound like one for the political season.”

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  • bob

    Bob this is your guy

  • http://www.msu.edu/~chasech5 Christopher W. Chase

    Former Gov. Huckabee has also made a name for himself by aggresively going into territory other GOP would tread lightly in right now. He appeared and did very well on the March 16th show of Real Time with Bill Maher, where he was interviewed by satellite. He also garnered quite a few positive responses recently when he appeared on National Public Radio’s “On Point” reaching out to progressives and others with a total “Pro-Life” agenda that moves away from abortion as a central issue, as well as a more “fair-trade” approach to trade. While he may not have done much among the diehard GOP base with those media appearances, his name recognition has increased and some of those normally disinclined to support an “evangelical” GOP candidate have found a friendly reception from Gov. Huckabee. Certainly he impressed Bill Maher, who is not easily impressed by the GOP these days.

    His centerpiece of replacing the current tax structure with purely consumption-based taxation still does not get much media coverage these days, and is likely to cause him the most problems as he moves toward the general election. It certainly did not help Steve Forbes, who should have done better among both social and economic conservatives during his run.

  • David

    Daniel:

    Reporters covering the GOP side of the campaign were all set to discount evangelicals.

    Subjectively, I agree with your statement, but wonder whether there are any objective criteria upon which you base it.

    At the very least, I would agree that, generally speaking, reporters and editors don’t get evangelicals. Like most other prejudices, until you actually spend some getting to know the object(s) of those pre-judgments, you remain ignorant.

    David

  • Ellen

    I dunno, does Huckabee hate anyone who doesn’t thump the Bible like a madman and talk about how God hates regular people and anyone who isn’t an evangelical? If not, then no, the evangelicals have not found their favorite candidate.

    Evangelical Christianity: all the crosses, none of the love of Jesus.

  • Kristine

    Hey, the Iowa straw poll isn’t ‘silly’. Tommy Thompson (former {retch} governor of Wisconsin) decided to pull out of the race because of his poor showing. Now, there’s a piece of news that makes the Iowa straw poll worthwhile.

  • rw

    Ellen,

    Hate much?

  • steve wintermute

    I notice that Pulliam posts the following sentence from Kuo then inexplixably lets it pass without comment: “Christians increasingly see him as a ‘real’ Christian….”
    It would be nice if people who write stuff like this would preface it with the word “some” and also give readers their definition of a “real” Christian. That would be professional religion commentary, because I seriously doubt if all, even most, Christians agree with that statement.

  • Jimmie

    Your religious people are nuts.

  • mike

    I can only think of two evangelical Christian presidents. Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. Anybody like them both? What’s the point of courting evangelicals?

  • rw

    Mike,

    How about Mr. Baptist, Harry Truman?
    Quote: “We have gone a long way toward civilization and religious tolerance, and we have a good example in this country. Here the many Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church do not seek to destroy one another in physical violence just because they do not interpret every verse of the Bible in exactly the same way. Here we now have the freedom of all religions, and I hope that never again will we have a repetition of religious bigotry, as we have had in certain periods of our own history. There is no room for that kind of foolishness here.” — Mr. Citizen, 1960

    What’s the point of -not- courting 40 million Evangelicals?

  • Stephen A.

    Unlike David, above (#3) I think there’s no question whether extreme anti-evangelical bias really does exist in the media.

    More evidence (yes, anecdotal) are the comments made by Chris Matthews this very night on Hardball, when he wondered aloud (in a hysterical voice) whether Pres. Bush is virtually controlled by God (as in, ‘like a puppet’) and whether he somehow sees himself as “divinely led” to wage a “REAL crusade” against Islam. His intro was so hateful, I clicked the channel, but I bet two liberals were interviewed who vigorously backed him up, with no counterpoint offered. That seems to be the standard approach for MSNBC.

    Huckabee may or may not be the “one” conservative Christians flock to, but I’m wondering if the strong second place win in Ames might stop the media from using him as the “God-go-to” guy. He gets the “religious” questions in debates, and seemed to be on TV a lot asked only about God.

    Frankly, this seemed to be an effort to marginalize him, or paint him as this year’s “Gary Bauer” candidate, i.e. not really serious or “secular enough” for the mainstream of the GOP, as deemed by the liberal gatekeepers of the MSM.

    But I think that’s changing, noticibly in the broadcast media (which seems to be neglected here a lot.)

    Huckabee is also addressing issues that could appeal to independents and moderate Republicans. I was VERY impressed when Huckabee, on Hardball last week, said this, which he has repeated often since then:

    “The first thing we’ve got to do as a Republican Party is we’ve got to stop being a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street …Not many Republicans are willing to say it, but we’d better say it or we won’t win another election for a generation.”

    As a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, I was extremely impressed. I bet many others were, too.

  • David

    Stephen A:

    I agree (wholeheartedly) that there is an anti-evangelical bias in the media. My question for Daniel had to do with the “discounting” evangelicals in the upcoming election(particularly in light of GR’s stated objectives and ongoing critique of media coverage of religion news, since such vague and subjective comments are part and parcel of that critique). Ignoring and discounting seem to be two different things to me.

    Regardless of whether the press is discounting evangelicals, the Democratic party seems to not be doing so. Even if their rhetoric is simply “God-talk” (i.e. saying the “right words” to confuse those simpleton evangelicals and trick them into voting for us because we speak their language), the tactical change shows that they are not discounting that block of voters. However, I think they don’t get the importance of the abortion and gay marriage issues (in particular) to those believers.

    I also think both politicians and the press don’t get evangelicals’ position on the environment (as a stewardship issue) and poverty (the least of these) because the group approaches them differently than “the left.” The press paints these as political issues as well, but to most evangelicals (I speak as one), these are discipleship issues as well. Wouldn’t you just love to see the press try to report on that concept?

  • Chuck

    David—You are correct about that anti-evangelical bias? Know why the bias exists? Because evangelicals are superstitious nitwits who are full of bombast about Santa Jesus but ignore inconvenient facts–like evolution. Evangelicals are a small, fringe constituency whose undue influence in DC has helped lead to everything from the Iraq invasion to faith-based science in the Bush administration. I do not care what wild-eyed foolishness anyone believes. Just stop trying to foist off superstition as public policy. Thanks for reading. You may now return to your fantasy world.

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    David, you raise a good point about the difference between ignoring and discounting. As far as Huckabee’s appeal to conservative Christians, I think Marc Ambinder said it well here:

    Consider: As a former Southern Baptist pastor, Huckabee’s moral credentials are unimpeachable. He does not have to pander to — er, appeal to — evangelical Christians. He is one.

    Kuo’s statement is a rather cynical look at how politicians attempt to appeal to many diverse groups. Often they try to be like them in a way that lacks authenticity and realism.

  • Whipsnard

    Chuck-
    The beauty part is that in our fantasy world, if we are right then the ending is awesome! If we are wrong, big whoop! In your fantasy world of hate, you ending sucks either way.


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