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January 9, 2008

Column #1,376

Evangelicals Like Huckabee & McCain

By Mike McManus

            In the Iowa Caucuses, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee trounced Mitt Romney by 34 percent to 25 percent.  That defeat made Romney vulnerable to a second pummeling in New Hampshire by Sen. John McCain, 37 percent to 32 percent.

            How did Huckabee come from nowhere in the polls to defeat Romney, who outspent him 100-1, mostly on anti-Huckabee ads?  First, he is appealing candidate who is very articulate and has a winsome sense of humor.  Second, he’s a deeply committed evangelical who other evangelicals instantly recognize as a brother.

           He did not have Romney’s recent pro-life conversion but has always believed that each conceived child has the same right to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” as any newborn. Not only is he a former pastor but the previous President of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Yet he served longer as governor (ten years) than as pastor.

Sixty percent of Iowa Republican described themselves as evangelicals, who voted for Huckabee over Romney by 2-1. McCain, who garnered only 13 percent of Iowa’s vote, offered an explanation that Romney should have heeded in New Hampshire: “The lesson of this election is Iowa is that, one, you can’t buy an election in Iowa.  And two, negative ads don’t work.”

With only 23 percent of N.H. voters claiming to be evangelical, their votes were split almost equally between Huckabee, McCain and Romney.  Huckabee spent only $40,000 on N.H. ads compared to $1.5 million by Romney, and still came in third at 11 percent, beating Giuliani, Thompson and others.

More importantly, Huckabee leads in South Carolina polls.  In a Monday poll he beat Romney by 36 to 19 percent with 17 for McCain.  Note: since 1980, no candidate has become the GOP nominee without winning South Carolina.

Furthermore, in three out of four NATIONAL polls, Huckabee is in front. Last Monday an AP poll gave Huckabee 25 percent vs. 20 for Giuliani and 19 for Romney.

Why? Grassroots evangelicals like the fact Huckabee is not only concerned about global warming, but has proposed a “cap and trade tax” that gives polluters an incentive to clean up.  They also agree with him that the Bush foreign policy has been arrogant.

“Evangelicals are saying we need to address our national image that is in disrepute, and agree we need to acknowledge with a certain humility, that what other countries think about us matters,” says Richard Cizik, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals. “We have to collaborate with others in our fight against terrorism.  Huckabee is also concerned about global hunger and poverty.”

Curiously, the only major evangelical supporting Huckabee is Don Wildmon, President of the American Family Association. Pat Robertson oddly backed Giuliani and some others, Fred Thompson who got a deserved 1 percent vote in New Hampshire.

Neither evangelical nor Catholic leaders said much about John McCain, who  thwacked Romney in New Hampshire. McCain has always been prolife. No major candidate has more extensive international experience.  He urged the firing of Don Rumsfeld and is the author of the troop surge, which was very unpopular – and successful.

“He is a principled, gutsy guy who is a national icon on such issues as immigration, the environment, and especially on the war, who also opposes special interests buying of American democracy,” Cizik asserted.

As a person who has represented evangelicals in Washington for 30 years, Cizik concedes, “I put a lot of stock on experience. Nothing tests you more than having to make decisions, choices between equally flawed options. John McCain has made those decisions. He’s much more experienced than Huckabee.”

Does that mean Cizik supports McCain over Huckabee? No. “I could vote for either one. Huckabee is an obvious leader, well spoken.  His victory speech in Iowa articulated Christian ideals without mentioning his Christian faith.  He said it is important how you treat your enemies.

“Also the youngest candidate won in each party – Obama and Huckabee.  McCain is the oldest Presidential candidate at 71. His face is disfigured due to the five years of torture he suffered.  But some of the greatest Presidents have not been handsome, like as Abe Lincoln.”

Both men have their liabilities.  Huckabee’s “Fair Tax” that would eliminate all forms of corporate and personal income taxes and replace them with a giant 30 percent sales tax seems unwise and unworkable to me. McCain’s campaign finance reform removed the right of non-profit groups to air ads critical of candidates near an election. However, the Supreme Court struck that down.

However, both men deserve serious consideration.

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