Evangelicals behind Huckabee’s rise?

huckWhat accounts for Mike Huckabee’s surge in the polls? The Washington Post thinks it knows: he’s winning over evangelicals. This is, of course, what everyone is saying right now.

According to Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray, Huckabee was deliberate about his appeal to the Republican constituency. Long before he began his long-shot presidential bid, the ordained Baptist minister reached out to Randy Brinson, a physician from Montgomery, Alabama:

Brinson is the keeper of a massive e-mail list of much-coveted Christian voters that Huckabee is using to reach and organize people in early-voting states such as Iowa.

Brinson’s list numbers about 71 million contacts, with 25 million identified as belonging to “25 and 45 years old, upwardly mobile, right-of-center, conservative households,” he said. In other words, a target-rich environment for a candidate such as Huckabee, who is preaching a compassionate conservative message heavily infused with religious sentiment.

While Cillizza and Murray’s explanation sounds light, Post columnist Charles Krauthammer cast a dark shadow on Huckabee’s purported outreach to evangelicals.

Krauthammer faulted Huckabee for running an ad in Iowa in which the phrase “Christian leader” appears. By Krauthammer’s lights, Huckabee’s commercial was a not-so-subtle smear of the Mormon faith of Mitt Romney, whom Huckabee has surpassed in Iowa:

Mormonism should be a total irrelevancy in any political campaign. It is not. Which is why Mitt Romney had to deliver his JFK “religion speech” yesterday. He didn’t want to. But he figured that he had to. Why? Because he’s being overtaken in Iowa. Why Iowa? Because about 40 percent of the Republican caucus voters in 2000 were self-described “Christian conservatives” — twice the number of those in New Hampshire, for example — and, for many of them, Mormonism is a Christian heresy.

That didn’t seem to matter for much of this year, when Romney had a commanding lead and his religion seemed a manageable political problem — until Mike Huckabee came along and caught up to Romney in the Iowa polls.

The appealing aspects of Huckabee’s politics and persona account for much of this. But part of his rise in Iowa is attributable to something rather less appealing: playing the religion card. The other major candidates — John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson — either never figured out how to use it or had the decency to refuse to deploy it.

Huckabee has exploited Romney’s Mormonism with an egregious subtlety. Huckabee is running a very effective ad in Iowa about religion. “Faith doesn’t just influence me,” he says on camera, “it really defines me.” The ad then hails him as a “Christian leader.”

Huckabee no doubt has garnered support from evangelicals. But it’s simplistic to conclude that Huckabee’s surge is entirely due to to them. After all, Huckabee has gained support from non-evangelicals as well. Romney and Huckabee are tied among this large voting bloc, at 24 percent apiece.

Also, while Huckabee’s “Christian leader” may have helped him with evangelicals, he has yet to run any TV commercials in South Carolina. You would think that this might hurt him. Yet Huckabee just this week charged to the lead in the Palmetto State. Perhaps Huckabee aides are emphasizing his religious background, but no reporter has produced evidence for that fact.

Might Huckabee’s rise be due to other factors as well? How about his performance at the CNN/YouTube debate? That was the one in which Huckabee distanced himself from the notion that his policies are determined by what he thinks Jesus would do. (“Jesus was too smart to run for political office,” he quipped.) After the debate, pundits expressed wonderment and respect for Huckabee’s political adroitness.

“Evangelicals moving toward Huckabee” is an obvious story line. But it’s hardly the only one that explains Huckabee’s rise. Why don’t well-funded newspapers like the Post show how Huckabee, as well as the other candidates, are doing among all religious groups?

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Why don’t well-funded newspapers like the Post show how Huckabee, as well as the other candidates, are doing among all religious groups?

    Um, because the Post doesn’t get religion?

    Was that a trick question?

  • Jerry

    Huckabee has gathered some plaudits from such sources as Anthony Robinson for his lack of polarization of the debate and Mark Shields who is the Democratic part of Shields & Brooks on PBS Newshour:

    MARK SHIELDS:…he’s authentic. He’s likable. He’s real. And I think that’s contributed to his rise. It’s not been some sort of a religious movement by itself.

    Add this into the comments you made above, and I have to ask the intent question. Was Huckabee emphasizing his background or subtly attacking Romney? There’s no way for any of us to answer that question but it’s a good question.

    But it’s clear from the comments I’ve read that he’s getting favorable reviews from beyond the Christian conservative community.

  • http://www.lutheranzephyr.com Chris

    I’m waiting for the poll of all self-described “confident independent” Lutherans. I’m sure Romney’s shout-out to them in his attempt-to-be-JFK-but-not-really speech has helped Romney regain that part of the Iowa electorate.

    Of course Huckabee’s rise has to do with religion. This guy hasn’t a shred of international experience or knowledge (“what NIE on Iran?”), and a mixed record on traditional GOP principles of governance (taxes, crime, etc.). The only explanation for his rise in the GOP primary – aside from his charm, good looks and guitar skills – are the thoroughly unsubtle contrasts he draws between himself and Romney on the matter of religious faith.

  • Dale

    The only explanation for his rise in the GOP primary – aside from his charm, good looks and guitar skills

    Substitute a saxophone for a guitar, and that was good enough to get Bill Clinton nominated by the Democrats. He also had no international experience, and a mixed record on traditional Democratic principles. But support for Huckabee must be based solely on religion because. . . what?

    I smells me a double standard, I do.

  • shocked

    Interesting that, somehow, “religion” is now playing a part in selecting candidates for political office, rather than, say, political experience, intellectual capablity, foreign expertise etc;.

    Is it really an indication of “progress” or an indication of confusion and, perhaps, decline?

  • http://www.biblebeltblogger.com Frank Lockwood

    Hello from cold, miserably cold Des Moines.

    Why don’t well-funded newspapers like the Post show how Huckabee, as well as the other candidates, are doing among all religious groups?

    Spend enough money and enough time and well-funded newspapers like the Post could tell you how Huckabee and the other candidates are doing among five-point Calvanists, Unitarians, Oneness Pentecostals, Atheists and “spiritual, but not religious Americans between the ages of 40 and 45 who watch ‘American Idol.’” They could tell you, but they won’t, because it would cost a lot of money and wouldn’t necessarily give you any insight into who is going to win the election here. Looking at the demographics in Iowa, the Post has wisely decided that the evangelical vote is going to be crucial here. Roughly 40 percent of all GOP caucus-goers are expected to be evangelicals. If evangelicals are united here (and that’s a big ‘if’), their candidate will be hard to stop on Jan. 3.

  • http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=HiveRadical HiveRadical

    Anti-Mormon sentiment may be more pronounced among evangelicals, but to suppose that things like push polls and whisper campaigns besmirching Mormonims only have play amongst the hard evangelical right is to underestimate the reach of bigotry ‘mongst all, even established and mainline, Christians.

  • Dale

    If reporters are going to study religious subgroups among Republicans, and suggest there’s something insidious about evangelical support for Huckabee, perhaps we should also know what percentage of Mormons support Romney.

    Or, more to the point, as far as I’m concerned, what percentage of high income, Wall Street-connected businessmen support Romney. Those are the folks who aren’t going to take to Huckabee, because unlike Romney, who’s one of them, or Giuliani, who owes his political career to them, Huckabee is an unknown quantity with possible populist economic tendencies. That’s scary if your primary concern is maximum return on capital in the markets.

    There are more differences between these candidates than religion. It’s false to suggest that there aren’t, or that the primary reason that people support one over the other is religion.

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  • Michael

    If reporters are going to study religious subgroups among Republicans, and suggest there’s something insidious about evangelical support for Huckabee, perhaps we should also know what percentage of Mormons support Romney.

    Except in Utah and maybe Idaho, whether Mormons support Romney doesn’t really matter from the perspective of who is going to win the nomination. OTOH, who Evangelicals support in states like Iowa does matter because they can potentially control the outcome of the race. Evangelicals are the one major GOP bloc who tend to, well, vote as a bloc.

    Anti-Mormon sentiment may be more pronounced among evangelicals, but to suppose that things like push polls and whisper campaigns besmirching Mormonims only have play amongst the hard evangelical right is to underestimate the reach of bigotry ‘mongst all, even established and mainline, Christians.

    The polling shows Evangelicals are most unlikely to oppose a Mormon candidate than any other group. Because of their power within the GOP, that attitude is significant. Whether mainline Protestants won’t vote for a Mormon is less consequential on Romney’s future because mainline Protestants have less influence in the GOP and mainline Protestant Democrats wouldn’t vote for Romney, Mormon or not, so again any bigotry is inconsequential on Romney’s future.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    Hmmm. I really don’t see how “Christian leader” is an attack on Romney. That’s silly.

  • http://vjmorton.wordpress.com Victor Morton

    What MattK said.

    I normally like Krauthammer a great deal, but I want some of what he’s been sniffing.

    Krauthammer just takes for granted that calling oneself a Christian is really an attack on Mitt Romney without even putting forth an argument at all — except an analogy to Joe Lieberman’s being in the campaign, thinking it to be self-evident in that case too. But there is no argument from Krauthammer other than bald assertion.

    I mean … what’s Huckabee (or Brownback RIP, or any conceivable Christian) supposed to do if there’s a non-Christian in the field — whether Mormon, Jew or otherwise — does that make pointing out your own Christianity out of bounds as some sort of attack? Sezhoo and sinswen? Would the ad have been out of bounds if there were no non-Christians in the race? How is what Krauthammer saying not an informal negative-test of religion for office, while fulminating against the formal kind. And does this same rule apply to non-Christians — i.e., Lieberman couldn’t identify himself as a Jew (how, without changing his name) because there were no non-Jews on the 2000 GOP ticket?

    Further, it’s not as if (1) it were a two-person race; Huckabee had been running fifth until a couple of weeks ago, meaning he had three Christians to pull ahead of, besides Romney, or (2) there is anything in the ad’s script that can be called a reference to Mormonism (“I only worship one god”; “I only have one wife”; “I don’t rely on golden tablets or new gospels,” etc.)

    In fact, the only Huckabee words Krauthammer bothers to cite is this: “Faith doesn’t just influence me, it really defines me.” How in the name of Moroni is that a reference to Romney, Mormonism or any halfway widespread image of either? In fact, even those (mostly) evangelicals who engage in the strongest statements of theological distaste for Mormonism usually do so with the caveat that Mormons are near-universally good people who live out their (misguided, heretical etc.) religion to the full, and that Christians have a great deal socially and in-the-worldwise to learn from them. For Mormons, their religion defines them, for good or ill eternally; nobody sees them as milquetoasts for whom religion is a mere influence. In fact, if Huckabee’s words must be seen as an implicit religious slam against another candidate, it could be more easily interpreted as aimed at Rudy Giuliani, the multi-divorced, pro-abortion, gay-shackup Catholic (or perhaps Fred Thompson as an unreliable johnny-come-lately).

  • Harris

    However as Frank Rich noted in yesterday’s Times, it may also be that it is not the evangelical constituency per se that accounts for the rise, but his Christian ethics, and in particular is humane response on the question of the treatment of undocumented immigrants. Thus, the religion story may be the absence of such Christian ethics in favor of the current partisan crie de jour (anti-immigration, tougher-than-thou security stances) found among the other leading GOP candidates.

  • Dale

    Michael said:

    Except in Utah and maybe Idaho, whether Mormons support Romney doesn’t really matter from the perspective of who is going to win the nomination.

    True, but that’s not what you’re trying to prove, is it Michael?

    mainline Protestants have less influence in the GOP and mainline Protestant Democrats wouldn’t vote for Romney, Mormon or not, so again any bigotry is inconsequential on Romney’s future.

    Uh huh. So bigotry is the reason evangelicals may not support Romney. Yet the similar behavior of Mormons and mainline Protestants is irrelevant.

    How convenient.

  • L West

    I have supported Mike Huckabee since April and have spent a substantial amount of time on his web-site. I can tell you that he does attract a large group of conservative Christian voters, however I can also say, that there are many people that support him that have nothing to do with conservative Christian movement. He attracts, the Fair Tax audience, the second amendment lobby, independents, and even democrats, so to say that the only reason for his rise in the polls is because of the Christians is an uninformed statement. I would like to ask a question of those who keep saying that the Governor doesn’t have any foreign policy experience. Who in this field of candidates really does have that experience…Giuliani, a mayor, Romney, also a governor, McCain, a senator, Thompson, a senator, Paul, Tancrado, and Hunter, congressmen. To truly have experience in foreign policy, as a leader, you have to of served as president for a least one term. I don’t believe there is any real preparation for that except to study, know the issues of the day, have an ability to communicate, willing to listen to advisor’s and desire to protect and serve this great country. I will say that if someone has been an ambassador, or held the position of National Security Advisor, or Secretary of State, their service would really count for foreign policy experience. In this election season, there really isn’t a candidate, on either side, that has any great experience in foreign policy.

  • Nalora Burns

    I am part of the Grassroots movement for Gov. Huckabee, and although I consider myself a Christian, I am by no means an evangelical, (I am Orthodox), nor am I part of the far-right. I was a Hippie back in the day, marching on Washington against the Vietnam war. I had to fight my own Government to vote at 18. I watch with amazement while the press is used by politicians for their negative agenda against Mike. They are mere “puppets of negativity”—prisoners of horizontal thinking. Part of what keeps holding Americans down, not building them up, their words are bricks in the wall that divides and polarizes this nation. Christian-bashing is now politically correct. Appealing to Christians is now called “Playing the religion card”. What about playing the “9-11 card”? How about the “Money Card.” For me, the reasons I support Gov. Huckabee have nothing to do with playing gin rummy for the presidency. It is because he is not playing that game. He is not trying to buy the white house. He is out there, taking the pot-shots and mud-slinging and encouraging me to remain positive–to continue to Hope…to Believe—not in Jesus Christ, but in America.

  • Bot

    Huckabee is NO conservative:
    Mike Huckabee was regarded by fellow Republican governors as a compulsive tax increaser and spender. He increased the Arkansas tax burden by 47 percent, boosting the levies on gasoline and cigarettes. The Arkansas Leader.com editorialized that Mike Huckabee raised more taxes in 10 years in office than Bill Clinton did in his 12 years.

    The Arkansas Ethics Commission held proceedings 20 times on the former governor. During his tenure, Huckabee accepted 314 gifts valued overall at more than $150,000, according to documents filed with the Arkansas secretary of state’s office. (He accepted 187 gifts in his first three years as governor but was not required to report their value.)

    Two months after taking office, Huckabee stunned the state by saying he questioned rapist Wayne DuMond’s guilt and that it was his intention to free the rapist, DuMond murdered a women in Illinois after Huckabee set him free

    Huckabee battled conservatives within his own party who were pushing for stricter state-level immigration measures, such as:.
    – proof of legal status when applying for state services that aren’t federally mandated
    - proof of citizenship when registering to vote
    - Huckabee failed in his effort to make children of illegal immigrants eligible for state-funded scholarships and in-state tuition to Arkansas colleges.
    In a1992 :U.S. Senate race, Huck advocated quarantining AIDS patients, and cutting AIDS research.
    Does Huckabee subscribe to his spiritual advisor Timothy LaHay’s views of the Rapture, United Nations, and a Palestinian state?” Huck’s use of the “Christian Leader” title is a thinly-veiled attempt to impose a religious test in violation of Article Six of the Constitution.

    Mike fails on so many levels as a true conservative

  • Jerry

    Another data point from today’s news CNN.com this morning. I agree Huckabee is not a true conservative. My feeling is that we need to get away from hard-right true conservatives versus hard-left true liberals and move toward solving problems informed by ideology but not captive to it.

    “I see he and Obama as very similar in what they’re trying to do,” Inglis said, referring to the latter’s willingness to break with party orthodoxy on certain issues.

    “I think that Huckabee has got to find a way say things that need to be said, that we’re not going to scare them into voting for us, we’re not going to demonize Democrats, we’re not going to hate immigrants,” Inglis said. “We’re going to be rooted in principle and focused on the future, and that’s what I think he’s found.”

  • Brian Walden

    Just out of curiousity, this article is titled “Evangelicals behind Huckabee’s rise?” and the background picture behind Huckabee shows someone holding a rosary and reading what we would assume is a Bible. What’s up with that? I don’t think Mark intended to bring up the debate over what exactly evangelical means and who can call themselves one.

    And about that picture – I read my Bible and pray my rosary, but not at the same time. What’s going on there? A scriptural rosary? That’d be a lot of page flipping to do it straight from the Bible.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    I won’t address whether Hucakbee is a “true” conservative or his political views on crime or immigration, because frankly that’s not the role of this blog. But…

    Does Huckabee subscribe to his spiritual advisor Timothy LaHay’s views of the Rapture, United Nations, and a Palestinian state?” Huck’s use of the “Christian Leader” title is a thinly-veiled attempt to impose a religious test in violation of Article Six of the Constitution.

    I think it’s funny that Bot (17) criticizes those who would impose a religious test (and, once again, I’ll say that the Constitution ONLY restricts government from imposing the test, not individuals) but in the sentence before it, he imposes a test of his own, whether Huckabee agrees with what I presume are Bot’s own views. Bot can’t have it both ways

    Actually, Bot does raise a great point, though perhaps not as he wanted to. As a voter, I want to know if Huckabee is going to act as president to bring about Armageddon, or if he holds to the view tha Israel’s government is going to be deemed “correct” all the time simply because it’s the heir of the ancient Biblical state, which I don’t see as in America’s best interest.

  • http://david-jaime-jason.blogspot.com Jason

    I thought it was the Colbert bump?

  • Julia

    does that make pointing out your own Christianity out of bounds as some sort of attack

    Why point out your own Christianity? Even if it isn’t perceived as an attack on a fellow candidate.

    I see no reason to hide it, but why make a big deal of it?

    As someone has mentioned, Lieberman’s name may lead one to think he’s a Jew by birth, but his name alone won’t tell you that he’s an Orthodox and practicing religious Jew. I don’t recall him bragging about being a religious Jew. He wasn’t hiding it either. He just didn’t make a big deal of it.

    The name Giuliani would lead one to think the person is likely a Christian, but it doesn’t guarantee it. I don’t recall Giuliani trying to make his Catholic background a big deal – whether he thinks of himself as a good Catholic or not.

    Why make such a point about one’s religion as a plus? When did that become appropriate? It’s divisive.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    It’s not divisive to stress a positive affiliation to gain votes – it’s good politics.

    If a candidate is a Union member, and he’s seeking votes in a heavily pro-Union state, it makes sense to point that out.

    Huckabee, a conservative Christian, is making sure that the HUGE conservative Christian base in Iowa knows he’s one, too.

    Not being able to read Huckabee’s mind, I won’t attribute sinister motives or any other motive to his actions unless I have proof. That’s something good for everyone to do, even if they’re not in Huckabee’s fan club.

  • Deseretian

    The Huckster isn’t a bad guy; rather, he’s truly average. There is nothing about this man that qualifies him for the presidency.

    I love how the spin doctors have made Romney appear to have been pro-gay/abortion. Anyone with even a shred of knowledge about Mormon bishops knows that Romney was NEVER pro-gay or pro-abortion. He viewed these things through a libertarian lense (the opposite of shariah law) as a candidate for senator and, later, as governor. His harsher stance on abortion is based on his belief that the states should be able to decide. His harsher stance on homosexual marriage actually stems from the same feelings. If homosexual marriage is allowed in one state, it must be recognized by all states. This further weakens the family. However, if California allowed abortions, it does not mean that Alabama would have to allow them too. In other words, one policy can be state-specific while the other must be national in order to protect states’ rights. (Individual states can still pass laws granting all the benifits of marriage to homosexuals; however, they would not be automatically transferrable to other states).

    Romney is smart, above outside control, loyal, good, and able. Huckabee can play guitar. If a better candidate had risen to the top, I’d be less saddened. As it stands, I can’t help but acknowledge that Mormons are being sold out.
    Good thing I’m a Democrat.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    I want to thank the Democrat for his opinion of a GOP candidate. I also want to ask him what in the COVERAGE of Huckabee and his evangelicalism he wants to comment on, since that’s the point of this thread.


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