Please do not try to convince me that the religious right is not still playing a major role in Republican politics. And definitely do not try to convince me that a very conservative, white, deeply religious viewpoint has not played a pivotal role in Governor Mike Huckabee’s rising poll numbers among prospective Republican voters.
Roughly four in ten white evangelical Christians have made a change in who they say they will vote for since November, similar to other Republicans who shifted candidates. But 56 percent of evangelicals who found another candidate flocked to Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, giving him 36 percent of the support of one of the GOP’s heavyweight voting blocs, well ahead of all his rivals.
The intensely religious were even more restless—and thus even more taken with Huckabee’s openly religious appeal. (He is running ads in select states that are all but evangelical sermons! He is using these in Iowa and South Carolina but not in New Hampshire, where his ads are quite different if there are run at all these days.) Among evangelicals who are conservative and attend church weekly, 54 percent switched candidates last month—and 61 percent of the switchers moved to Huckabee. The strategy is working, so far.
"He believes in what I believe in. I’m a Christian," said truck driver Jerry Steadman, 53, of Inman, S.C.
Yet even Huckabee is not immune to the voters’ evolving tastes—83 percent who moved to him said they were still open to changing again. I believe if these voters really understood his actual record in Arkansas on issues like taxes and the use of personal perks (and this is without getting into his intemperate tirades against the press), they will rethink his candidacy and fitness to lead the nation. Much of this is only now being flushed out by his opponents due to the fresh enthusiasm that he has garnered over the past month or so.
But there are quite a few white Christians in America like Jerry Steadman. If a candidate believes in the basic, conservative and “religious right” interpretation of the Christian faith then Huckabee is likely to be their man. He sure can talk their talk, as evidenced by his appearance with the famous, and often controversial, television preacher John Hagee this past weekend. This visit gathered some serious protest against Huckabee from another religious group, Roman Catholics. Catholics rightly see Hagee as evidence of a continuing strain of rather virulent anti-Catholicism.