McCain’s evangelical wooing continues

church and state 03Reading about presumed Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s outreach to so-called evangelical voters and “leaders” is like reading the 2004 presidential coverage only in reverse. Reporters should take whatever efforts McCain’s campaign makes to “outreach” to evangelical leaders with a large grain of salt.

There are several reasons for this. Contrary to the common assumptions, evangelicals are anything but homogeneous. Along with that, there is a diverse group of evangelical leaders and evangelicals are not easily led. Lastly, few evangelical leaders have expressed much excitement for a McCain presidency.

This of course makes the story much more difficult to cover, particularly compared to four years ago when magazine covers blared the common knowledge that evangelicals were voting in huge numbers for Republican George W. Bush and helped push him into his second term in office.

Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News appropriately conveyed this skepticism Sunday as he wrote about how McCain is stepping “up efforts to woo religious voters.” Slater, in his second paragraph, reports that McCain’s campaign has already written off the evangelical as a way of winning in November:

But even as he woos evangelicals, his campaign is pursuing a different strategy — abandoning George W. Bush’s model of galvanizing the GOP base and targeting independents to make up for lost social-conservative votes.

“We can’t win the election the way George Bush did by just running up the score with Republicans, running up the score with evangelicals and taking what we can out of the independent mix,” said Sarah Simmons, the campaign’s director of strategy.

It is a risky move, though, as religious conservatives have been instrumental to Republican victories for a generation. Some social conservatives warn that the appeal to moderate swing voters will jeopardize already lukewarm support from evangelicals.

Simmons quote is rather significant, particularly as McCain is in the middle of efforts to gain the support of evangelical “leaders.” A good question to ask those “leaders” is why they would support a candidate who won’t try to win their followers’ support the way the current president did just four years ago?

All the summer talk is directed at McCain’s running-mate selection. Former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee comes up a lot, but the Associated Press’s Eric Gorski rightly reported a week ago that a Huckabee in the second spot won’t solve McCain’s evangelical problem:

The group also agreed to sign a letter urging the McCain campaign to consider Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist minister, as his vice presidential choice, said another participant, Phil Burress. Burress, who heads an Ohio group that helped pass an anti-gay marriage measure in that state in 2004, was among a group of conservative Christian leaders who met with McCain last week.

Burress characterized the Huckabee overture as a “suggestion, not a demand.”

“This is a man you don’t threaten,” Burress said of McCain. “His principles are his principles. The last thing you want to do is try to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do because he’d probably do the opposite.”

Burress said that while Huckabee is a favorite of Christian conservatives, the most important thing is that McCain’s running mate be “pro-life and pro-family.” Huckabee isn’t a favorite of all evangelical leaders, either; some dislike his populist message, emphasis on the environment and economic positions.

mccain churchWhat deserves a closer look is the impact of the big social issues — abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research — on the evangelical vote.

Here is the AP:

Although McCain opposes abortion rights, his support for embryonic stem cell research and opposition to a federal amendment prohibiting gay marriage clashes with the widely held social conservative view.

Have those issues remained significant enough for evangelicals to avoiding voting (or voting) for McCain regardless of their other issues with him? On the other hand, is the moderate position expressed by presumed Democratic nominee Barack Obama enough to convince evangelical voters that mobilizing against him is not necessary?

More over, do these issues remain the most significant issues that will decide the evangelical vote this fall? Ultimately many of these questions will not be answered until after the November elections. But the coverage of this will only get heavier in the meantime. Check out the Los Angeles Times or this Religion News Service piece. Veteran RNS reporter Adelle Banks notes, concerning the recent evangelical politico summit in Denver:

The meeting featured conservative Christians from various sectors of evangelicalism, including African-Americans, Hispanics and younger evangelicals. Tim and Beverly LaHaye, the couple known respectively for their roles in the Left Behind book series and Concerned Women for America, were there, as were Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, former Christian Coalition president Don Hodel, and Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, an Ohio organization affiliated with Focus on the Family.

But one person who was not invited was one of the movement’s most prominent voices, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who recently blasted Obama’s politics and his theology, and has previously said he would not vote for McCain.

That’s the thing about covering issues like this. When it doubt, find out who is in the room. And who is not.

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  • Dave

    I’ve got to know: What city is the Church St/State St intersection from?

  • Granny T

    Why do so many people make such an effort to point out that Mike Huckabee is a “former Baptist minister” but forget to mention the fact that he was Lt. Gov. for 3 years before being Governor for 10 1/2 years? Is there any other person on McCain’s VP list with more political chief executive experience than Huckabee? McCain and Huckabee both have a record of reaching across party aisles to get things done. They genuinely respect and like each other.

    Huckabee was able to lead Arkansas to many major improvements fiscally responsibly in spite of a huge Democrat majority. Is there anyone who could have done more for less? Huckabee received 48% of the black votes in Arkansas during his re-election. Huckabee still has a 65% approval rating after exhausting his term limits. McCain/Huckabee ’08 sounds great to many if not most evangelicals as well as other values voters.

  • Nancy C.

    “Former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee..” honestly, it exhausts me to hear this song sung time after time. I guess it’s a novelty to people that a “preacher” could be a real person with other career avenues too, but really, can we mature a bit? Over 10 years as a governor should settle the question about political experience, shouldn’t it? So settle it, and quit referring to a distantly former occupation as his resume description.

  • Gregory

    I’ve got to know: What city is the Church St/State St intersection from?

    I’d like to see an official answer. I don’t know if the numbers are right, but there is such an intersection near downtown Champaign, IL.

  • Jerry

    Huckabee isn’t a favorite of all evangelical leaders, either; some dislike his populist message, emphasis on the environment and economic positions.

    It would be nice to have more detail about who “some” are since religious conservatism and economic conservatism are entirely two different things.

  • RGeorgeDunn

    James Dobson may have not been there in Denver at the evangelical(Christian) politico summit , but the Doctor was represented. Also know that of those who did not hold up a hand to support Governor Mike Huckabee for VP, about six, some of those were not in support of voting for Senator McCain and did not want Mike on the same ticket.

    As to the coalescing of the social conservatives, the history of the VP position prior to the twentieth century was much to do in forming such alliance. …

  • Claude

    I think journalists refer to Huckabee as a “former Baptist preacher” because he built his campaign on it. He never let people in Iowa and other primary states forget that he was a former Baptist preacher. He was most famous for wanting to amend the Constitution to reflect Biblical values. It seems weird at this point for people complaining that the press doesn’t get religion to complain that a man whose campaign was built on his being a former Baptist preacher is described in the press as a “former Baptist preacher.”

  • Claude

    Oh, Huckabee also did the ads with a cross in the background. No wonder the press calls him “a former Baptist preacher.”

  • Herb Brasher

    I, too, get up tight when the “Baptist minister” card is played. A number of German members of the Bundestag (parliament) are theologians (pastors–though I don’t have a handle now on how many at the moment), and not attorneys. I wish more of our Congressmen were. Someone ought to write a good piece sometime on the necessary mixture of professions for a good law-making body. Law and politics are obviously good fields to have studied and be experienced in, but some other expertise is needed as well. Good relational skills and an insight into human nature would seem to serve well, too.

    Oh well, guess I am already off the topic . . . .

  • FW Ken

    A more relevant question would be whether Arkansas’s health care, education, etc. improved under Gov. Huckabee.

    As did Claude, I will venture a political comment, since everyone else seems to be getting away with it. :-) Gov. Huckabee got a lot of flack from the right during his campaign and would probably not help Sen. McCain as VP. The flack was mainly over his economic populism – “social democrat” was one term I read applied to him – as well as his stance on immigration. I do think both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain would do well to select a governor as running mate, given our history of elected governors to the presidency. Gov. Huckabee, however, wasn’t able to reach past a fairly narrow base in his campaign, and (it seems to me), that base (and Sen. McCain’s supporters) will not necessarily join together to win the election.

    Of course, I’m the guy who, back in 2000, said that G.W. Bush had been a decent governor for Texas (a uniquely limited office, if you don’t know.) but could never get elected president. So you probably don’t want to listen to me. :-) :-)

  • Claude

    I don’t know whether Huckabee “improved” things in Arkansas, but I suspect that the rankings of Arkansas in areas such as per capita income, health care, and education are not noticeably higher than they were when he took office. In any case, he did really tacky things like inviting citizens to send him gifts when he and his wife renewed their marital vows and he has ties to really scary far-right groups. I would love McCain to choose him for I think he would drag his floundering campaign even further down. I suspect that McCain would like to choose Charlie Crist, who apparently is a good governor, but the recent announcement of his engagement is so obviously a political ploy to counter the persistent rumors that he is gay that probably has hurt him in the veepstakes.

  • Linda

    I do not know very much about Huckabee. In his interviews during the primary, he seemed like a nice person. He defended Rev Wright and seemed varily balanced.

    Now that he is employed by Fox News, I have been appalled at the things he has said. It would appear money and fame have influenced Huckabee.

  • danr

    Whoa… where have the GR editors gone? It’s a non-GR-related posting free-for-all! Help! Anarchy!

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    Sorry Danr for the anarchy. I was gone all day yesterday and things got out of control before I could moderate things. Also, once someone mentioned why people like me always mention that:

    Mike Huckabee is a “former Baptist minister” but forget to mention the fact that he was Lt. Gov. for 3 years before being Governor for 10 1/2 years?”

    I had trouble stepping in with my moderating stick because it’s a reasonable point.

  • danr

    LOL – no worries… it’s your blog after all. Everyone needs a day off now and then.
    And I agree, that is a reasonable point. Peace and TGIF. :)

  • Claude

    Well, what do you expect MSM to do? Just decide that Huckabee can hide the fact that he is a “former Baptist minister” and only refer to him as a “former Lt. Governor” or “former Governor”? He made a great deal of the fact that he was a “former Baptist minister.” Did someone do a focus group and decide that this information would hurt him in the general election?

  • danr

    Claude, saying he can “hide” that fact is imputing motive that he actually wants to hide, and clearly he doesn’t. But the question remains, does the MSM have a motive to continually reference his pastoral experience, either alongside or even instead of his political experience?

    Other politicians may likewise make a “great deal” of some element of their history, such as law practice, before obtaining office. The MSM still doesn’t typically refer to them far more often as “former lawyer” than “former (mayor, gov, etc)” – the latter being far more relevant in a political context. Why the seeming special case for constant MSM reference to Huckabee’s pastoral history?

  • Granny T

    Claude,
    Huckabee was able to improve things for Arkansas. From Time magazine’s, “America’s 5 Best Governors” article:

    Most notably, he created ARKids First, which offers health insurance to poor children and has helped reduce the percentage of uninsured Arkansans under 18 to 9% in 2003-04, compared with 12% for the nation and 21% for neighboring Texas. Since he became Governor in July 1996, welfare rolls have declined by nearly half, and last year the state’s economy grew 4.4%, beating the national average of 4.2%.

  • Claude

    danr, I might be more sympathetic to the idea that there was something sinister in referring to Huckabee as a “former Baptist minister” if that had not been the cornerstone of his campaign, which included ads with a cross in it and calls for amending the Constitution to reflect Biblical values. (Not sure exactly which Biblical values, but I assume it wasn’t to ban the eating of shellfish.) He ran as a “former Baptist minister.” It is hard to put the genie back in the bottle after you have deliberately let it out. And, anyway, once you are a minister, aren’t you still one, whether you pastor a church or not?

  • danr

    Claude, Huckabee himself denied that the alleged “cross” in his ads was intentional – his words on TV: “It was a bookcase for crying out loud. No cross intended, subliminal or otherwise.”
    Was the “former Baptist preacher” the “cornerstone” of his campaign according to him, or your own (and MSM’s ) labelling? I don’t think he wanted to put that “genie” back in the bottle, so much as question the incessant MSM drumbeat of association between former pastor-genie and current political candidate.

    As for his Biblically-based constitutional amending, based on his stated positions we can fairly presume he was referring to such Biblical values as protecting life (regarding abortion), affirming traditional families (regarding marriage), and mandating better stewardship of the earth (regarding the environment). No shellfish-shaped strawmen there.
    As for question of “once pastor, always pastor?”, different people and churches might respond differently. Larger point is, he wasn’t running as pastor or for pastor-in-chief, nor was he active in pastoring, nor did he by any means request the constant “former (or current) Baptist preacher” moniker.

  • Claude

    danr, I don’t think he wanted to “affirm” traditional families, he wanted to make sure that non-traditional families received no recognition and continued to suffer inequities. Inasmuch as the focus of his campaign was toward Evangelical Christians, I suspect that being a “former Baptist minister” was intentionally stressed by his campaign. Once he thought he might have a chance to go beyond this base, he suddenly wanted to be considered only as a politician. Most politicians these days want to be known as non-politicians. Maybe Baptist preachers are held in even lower regard than politicians?

  • Claude

    On another story, Verily has cited several bald-face lies told by religious people and has bemoaned the fact that they are seldom described as such by MSM. Related to that is the practice of using circumlocutions that disguise what is really being done. For example, danr says that Huckabee wanted to “affirm traditional families.” What he actually proposed (or endorsed Bush’s proposal) was a constititutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. It had nothing to do with “affirming” traditional marriage. This is not merely spin; it is deception. Why doesn’t MSM report on these tactics?

  • Chris Bolinger

    Claude, you apparently missed the Obama flyers in which a cross was displayed quite prominently, and intentionally. The MSM underplayed that but chose to draw all kinds of conclusions about Huckabee’s unintentional inclusion of a cross in one of his TV ads. Could it be that the MSM has a double standard when it comes to its characterization of the role of religion in the views and practices of politicians? Nah!

    Also, this blog focuses on how the MSM reports on religion. You and Verily should keep looking for a blog that tracks down “bald-face lies” (as determined by you) told by “religious people” (with whom you disagree) and castigates the MSM for not reporting on them. Given that you already know all of the “facts” — such as Helms “was a race-baiting homophobe who expressed the very sentiments of the majority of his Southern Baptist fellow-believers” — I’m not sure why you waste your time posting on this blog. Get your own, and enlighten the world on all of the “facts” that are going unreported.

  • Claude

    Chris, I don’t think there is anything wrong in using a cross in a television ad. Obama has been very upfront about his Christianity. What is curious about all this whining about the MSM treatment of Huckabee is that he made a particular outreach to Evangelical Christians on the basis of his being a Baptist preacher. Now apparently, he wants to go back into the closet about being a Baptist preacher. The bad-old liberal media keeps mentioning that he is, what?–a Baptist preacher. Surely, they are biased for doing that. Oh, it’s the truth, is it? Next thing we’ll learn is that he’s never been a Baptist preacher.

    As to Jesse Helms, do you think he was not a race-baiter? that he wasn’t a homophobe? That his supporters were overwhelmingly conservative Christians? If you don’t think these statements are “facts,” then you were living in a cave all during Helms’s political career. Just because some people develop amnesia doesn’t mean that all of us do.

  • danr

    Ah Claude, the convenient hypocrisy and logical fallacy of dismissing someone else’s opinion as “spin and deception” by using opinionated spin and deception of your own. Same semantic games played when one says “I’m affirming life” and another responds “No you’re not, that’s just spin – you just want to deny abortion rights.” Well, yes. Two sides of the same coin, and one by no means negates the other. But keep telling yourself it does, and best of luck to you. Peace out.

  • Granny T

    Claude,
    Do you have any idea how much like political chief executives Baptist preachers are? Both are on call 24/7 and know what it’s like to squeeze pennies so tight that Lincoln screams. Every Baptist church I’m familiar with, the preacher is a civil servant that is voted in and can be voted out just as easily. You revealed your true problem with your “homophobe” comment. Guess you must not have read much of our founding fathers comments. John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” –October 11, 1798

  • Dave2

    Granny T, what does that John Adams quote have to do with homophobia?

  • Chris Bolinger

    Claude, read your own quote again. Maybe several times. You stated that it is a “fact” that Helms expressed the sentiments of the majority of Southern Baptists, thereby implying that the majority of Southern Baptists are race-baiting homophobes. You must be an incredible researcher and analyst to be able to present such bold statements as “facts” that are beyond dispute. It amazes me that you don’t have your own blog to enlighten the world with your keen and breathtaking revelation of the “facts”.

  • Claude

    GrannyT, yes one of my problems with Huckabee (and many Southern Baptist preachers) is homophobia. I don’t quite know what point your quote from John Adams is supposed to make, but believe me homophobia is not morality. It is true that many religions have promulgated hatred for sexual minorities, but that doesn’t make it moral.

  • Claude

    Chris, I do not think it is a great revelation to think that the majority of Southern Baptists in North Carolina who elected Jesse Helms to the Senat 5 times were homophobic racists. The Southern Baptist Convention, after all, has apologized for its racist views in the past. And they boycotted Disneyland (admittedly, with little success) because Disney offered insurance benefits to the partners of its gay employees. Sounds like homophobia to me.

  • Claude

    Also, the Southern Baptist Convention of North Carolina has expelled several moderate Baptist churches for welcoming gay men and lesbians to their congregations.

  • Dave

    Granny T:

    John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, too, but that doesn’t constitute a recommendation of those laws.

  • Grupetti

    Brent Bullock wrote:
    “…the Marxist Senator Obama”

    dpulliam, if you don’t think this comment needs to be deleted, your moderation is driven by your personal biases. It’s pretty much a waste to critique the mainstream media when so many people appear to get their news from Rush Limbaugh.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    Grupetti: my moderation of this post has been driven by a very hectic week/weekend and a nasty bout with a cold. Sorry I missed that. Thanks for bring it to my attention. It didn’t blog on this blog.

  • Grupetti

    Thanks.


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