Earlier this year, I speculated that Governor Mike Huckabee would eventually win the support of cultural conservatives and move up among the top tier of presidential candidates. Today’s Rasmussen poll is a small indicator that Huckabee will likely be the candidate of choice for evangelical conservatives. According to the poll, Governor Huckabee has now eclipsed Governor Romney in an Iowa poll 28% to 25%!
Everyone in the GOP knows that cultural conservatives, aka “the religious right,” make up a sizeable and crucial voting block of the Republican party. In just about every “red state,” you simply can’t win without them. So it should come as no surprise that evangelicals are finally starting to congeal in their support behind one candidate – Mike Huckabee.
Despite Governor Mitt Romney’s efforts to woo this same crowd, he will continue to have difficulty bridging a theological gap that exists between Mormons and conservative Protestants and Catholics. Many of the hard core denominations still consider Mormonism a cult and this will continue to follow Romney when he ventures into evangelical circles.
Romney also has a credibility gap from his prior experience as Governor of Massachusetts. He pushed for and passed a health care program that some have equated to the botched 1993 Clinton health care fiasco. National Right to Life failed to endorse Romney even after he presumed he reconciled with NRLC’s Massachusetts affiliate. His prior endorsements of abortion can be found on YouTube and this will continue to haunt him despite years between. Evangelicals tend to choose based on the longest standing pro-life candidate.
Giuliani will never win the vote of evangelicals unless it becomes a matter of taking a bullet to a limb rather than to the head. Giuliani’s support of taxpayer-funded abortion (even former Congressman Jim Kolbe opposed this early in his career) demonstrates both cultural and fiscal anathema to conservatives. Romney also scares the hell out of libertarians and has become known as “Bush on steroids” within independent circles. Pat Robertson’s recent endorsement of Giuliani places Robertson in the position of either being either purely expedient or off the farm.
Fred Thompson, well Thompson has been a major disappointment – a real dud. When Thompson mustered enough ego and interest to finally get into the race, America collectively yawned. Thompson has been a non-start from the beginning and National Right to Life’s PAC endorsement will do little to jump start the Thompson campaign among cultural conservatives. His record with the religious right is based only on his voting record.
That leaves Governor Mike Huckabee.
It has been my impression that cultural conservatives have been holding off comitting to anyone in the top tier because they’ve been waiting for someone better to come along. Huckabee has come along and their starting to feel relieved that they might actually have someone to vote for in 2008. Mike Huckabee also represents the most consistent cultural conservative candidate among the religious right. As an ordained Baptist minister, Huckabee represents someone rising out of the ranks. (Even minor things like his commitment to improving his personal lifestyle by losing weight reflects well with the body is your temple faithful.)
But fiscal conservative groups like the Club for Growth continue to hammer away on Huckabee over his fiscal record and statements on taxes. These are his YouTube moments and the fiscal wing of the GOP isn’t going to let him off easy. But even despite the Club’s daily rants against Huckabee, this isn’t the most important issue amongst cultural conservatives. They want a candidate who will appoint pro-life justices, treat their faith with respect and uphold traditional marriage. They are far more willing to give a presidential candidate forgiveness on prior fiscal missteps than on attacking marriage, religion and the unborn. These are akin to political blasphemy and grace runs pretty thin in political circles. So Huckabee will go much farther than wooing cultural conservatives than any of the other candidates.
For many evangelicals, Mike Huckabee also represents an opportunity for a national do-over and doing that something over right. Maybe electing someone conservative from Hope, Arkansas will be that opportunity.