Although most observers viewed Mike Huckabee as John McCain's errand boy in siphoning evangelical votes away from Mitt Romney, Huckabee emerged from Super Tuesday as McCain's foremost prospect for a running mate.
While Huckabee is still behind both McCain and Romney in the delegate count, he came out looking more viable than Romney because of his victories in Republican strongholds like Georgia and Alabama, in Tennessee, and in his home state of Arkansas, all essential states for a Republican to win in November. Although the Huckabee campaign's signs of life are limited to the Bible Belt, that is exactly where McCain would need a boost from Huckabee's networks of fervent believers, especially in states like Missouri, where McCain eked out a victory but where the Democratic turnout outpaced the Republicans'. Other upcoming primary states where Huckabee could show well -- particularly if Romney drops out -- include Louisiana, Kansas, Texas, and Kentucky.
Huckabee was hardly the hands-down favorite among evangelical voters, who split their votes between the three Republican candidates. As I discussed last week, though, and as even more new polling shows, the Republicans can no longer claim a monopoly on evangelical voters, but it's hard to measure the true breadth of the Democratic evangelical vote because the exit pollsters still aren't asking Democrats if they're evangelical. While McCain has been drawing part of the evangelical vote, he would still need the hardcore of the conservative Republican evangelicals who are responsive to the movement's get-out-the-vote machinery and pastors' networks to compete in November. Huckabee, who compared himself to David slaying the mighty Goliath in a speech to supporters last night in Little Rock, demonstrated the resiliency of that machinery by pulling out victories in spite of Romney's financial dominance and McCain's post-Florida ascendancy to front-runner status.
It will be interesting to watch and see, in the coming weeks, whether the religious-right leaders start to coalesce around Huckabee, something many of them have resisted for months, in order to put pressure on McCain, whom many of them still view with suspicion. Surely any rallying around McCain would be accompanied by pressure on him to pledge fealty to their core issues, especially a federal gay marriage amendment and judicial nominations. If McCain makes amends with the old guard -- people like James Dobson and the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land -- and they also see Huckabee as a viable running mate, McCain could draw together different strands of the Republican-leaning evangelical vote. In my mind, they fall into three categories: moderate to conservative evangelicals who don't wait for marching orders from Dobson et al.; biblical conservatives moved by Huckabee's expressed commitment to the Christian nation mythology; and the "new kind" of evangelical I discussed last week, who share many of the movement's core beliefs, but reject its vitriolic rhetoric. Although the "new evangelical" is still a bit of an enigma -- how can Huckabee, for example, cavort with Tim LaHaye and John Hagee but still claim to reject that vitriol -- Huckabee has crossover appeal among all those groups.
2. Trouble in Paradise: Evangelicals Favoring Democrats -- Especially Hillary
A new survey by the Barna Group, the country's leading evangelical pollster, finds that more evangelicals have decided to vote Democratic this year than Republican. But it's not because evangelicals have morphed into flaming liberals. Instead, the shift appears to be driven by intense dissatisfaction with the GOP and its presidential candidates.
If the election were held today and they could choose from all the remaining candidates, 40 percent of evangelical Christians surveyed said they would vote for the Democrat -- whoever the nominee is -- while only 29 percent said they'd vote for the Republican, and 28 percent said they were undecided.
Among the remaining presidential candidates of either party, 20 percent of evangelical likely voters chose Hillary Clinton, 18 percent chose Barack Obama, and 12 percent chose Mike Huckabee. None of the other candidates broke single digits, and 30 percent remained undecided. Yet three-quarters of the respondents still identified themselves as conservative -- indicating that many do not understand Democratic positions, or that they still self-identify as conservative but are willing to give the Democrats a try; or that they're disgusted with the GOP and feel lost in the wilderness. Any which way you slice it, things are not looking good for the Republicans.
And the highly unscientific GodTube poll shows Huckabee with a strong lead. His nearest rivals? Obama and Clinton.
3. Super Tuesday Lays Bare Divisions on Religious Right Over GOP Field
Down to the wire, the Republican candidates battled for the heart and soul of the fractured religious right.
The Georgia Christian Alliance (previously known as the Christian Coalition of Georgia) sponsored the 2008 Faith and Freedom Kickoff Event, where Jay Sekulow spoke on behalf of Mitt Romney, former Sen. Phil Gramm spoke on behalf of John McCain, and Rep. John Linder of Georgia spoke on behalf of Huckabee. The star attraction, though, was David Horowitz, who spoke about something the religious right can rally around: the idea that government can't save America, only political involvement by Christians can.
Televangelist Bill Keller launched his anti-Romney site, votingforsatan.com, featuring a "Judas Gallery" of Romney supporters, including Sekulow, Christian PR guru Mark DeMoss, fundamentalist educator Bob Jones III, Abramoff bad boy Ralph Reed, and conservative big mouths Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham. It leads one to ask: with friends like these, does Romney really need enemies?
Keller may think a vote for Romney is a vote for Satan, but the Rev. Rob Schenck thought a vote for Huckabee was a vote for McCain, and "a McCain victory will hurt this country because of the long-term damage of the wrong judges and justices ... Evangelicals must choose wisely from among candidates other than Mike Huckabee and John McCain." Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman tried to light the way for McCain, finding the Chanukah story in his candidacy.
Huckabee backer Rick Scarborough claims to have e-mailed 10 million people to ask them to support Huckabee. Scarborough is hosting a fundraiser for his organization, Vision America, later this month, and the main attraction is a tribute (PDF) to Tim and Beverly LaHaye, who are also behind Huckabee. The host committee includes Stephen Hotze, whom Bob Novak tagged a Christian Reconstructionist, and who hosted a Huckabee fundraiser in Texas late last year.
James Dobson reiterated that he'd never vote for McCain "under any circumstances." In the same breath, Focus on the Family castigated Barack Obama for supporting legalization of marijuana. The Obama campaign claims he used to, but no longer supports decriminalizing pot, so this portends the flavor of the religious right's diatribe against Obama in a general election match-up. We already know the tone of the anti-Clinton diatribe, straight out of the production studios of Citizens United, which also contributed to Huckabee's campaign.
John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council, whose sponsorship of the Florida Renewal Project and endorsement of Huckabee failed to pull off a campaign miracle, nonetheless succeeded in gathering enough petitions to put a measure to amend the state's constitution to ban gay marriage on the ballot for November.
Harry Jackson, who is uncommitted to a candidate, claims that the evangelical vote will matter come November, and if McCain is the nominee, he "will have to choose a partner who will help him attract alienated evangelical voters and craft a message that will appeal to them. Savvy evangelical voters are concerned about the economy, terrorism, the war, immigration reform along with religious liberties, the value of human life, and a myriad of other problems that have moral consequences. A socially conservative running mate like Mike Huckabee or Senator Sam Brownback could help him reinvent himself." And there's evidence that Brownback, in addition to Huckabee, is indeed angling for the job.
Ohio's Christocrats Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson are not playing the electoral game yet, presumably to avoid any additional scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. But Parsley is dropping the usual hints to his television viewers to look at the candidates' stands on "biblical" issues. He implied this week that by paying taxes, we are all "accessories to genocide, to racial extermination," because tax dollars go to Planned Parenthood, which, he maintains, aims to abort black babies. In trying to convince his viewers that ending abortion matters more than fixing the health-care crisis, Parsley asked, "What benefit is health care to a corpse?"
4. Will Grassley Subpoena Defiant Televangelists?
You heard it here first, but now Kenneth Copeland's fundraising for Mike Huckabee has circled the Internet and focused more attention on Copeland's defiance of -- indeed declaration of "holy war" on -- Sen. Charles Grassley's investigation into his possible diversion of tax-exempt donor funds to his family's personal enrichment.
Grassley has not ruled out issuing a subpoena and would seek one if necessary, his spokesperson, Jill Gerber, told me last week. Copeland's response to Grassley's initial request was "largely unresponsive," Gerber said, adding that Copeland charged in his response that the information sought was "not Grassley's business." Grassley hopes, she said, that the televangelists who have not yet responded -- Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paula White, Eddie Long, and Creflo Dollar -- "will see [responding to the inquiry] as part of their obligation in exchange for their special tax-exempt status."
Huckabee filed his year-end disclosure with the Federal Election Commission, which shows that Copeland, his family members, and staff collectively contributed over $25,000 to Huckabee's campaign -- and that was before Copeland's 2008 ministry conference at which he raised even more dough for Huck.
5. Religious Right Rallies Around the Country
Worldview Weekend is hosting a series of "Code Blue Rallies" around the country because, the Web site explains, "the church in America is in critical condition. Christian adults and young people alike embody worldviews that are no different from those outside the church. Jesus' warning in Revelation 3:16 should be ringing in our collective ears: 'So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.'"
In Times Square on Friday, Teen Mania (which claims to represent a new young wave of evangelicals) will be gathering to "Recreate '08" at which they will "issue a list of 8 QUESTIONS for the presidential candidates that reflect their top concerns including: youth exposure to Internet pornography, media glamorization of drugs, sex and alcohol, and the AIDS pandemic." Also on hand will be the oddball lineup of televangelist T.D. Jakes, Sean Hannity, and Yankees closer Mariano Riviera.
If Jesus had to pick someone to make him vomit, Sean Hannity would probably be a strong contender.
Contact me at tapthefundamentalist AT gmail DOT com.
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