Is Republican Mike Huckabee’s Presidential Primary Baptist Evangelical Support “Wannabe”?

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Each day there’s a new story — or stories — about polls showing Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee becoming the break-away campaign 2008 favorite who seemingly came “out of nowhere” to negate the earlier conventional wisdom about who almost certain to win the Presidential nomination prize.

But is some of his highly-touted, solid Evangelical support more wannabe than reality?

Columnist Robert Novak contends it is:

When Mike Huckabee went to Houston on Tuesday to raise funds for his fast-rising, money-starved presidential candidacy, a luncheon for the ordained Baptist minister was arranged by evangelical Christians. On hand was Judge Paul Pressler, a hero to Southern Baptist Convention reformers. But he was a nonpaying guest who supports Fred Thompson for president.

Huckabee greeted Pressler warmly. That contrasted with Huckabee’s anger two months ago when they encountered each other in California. The former governor of Arkansas took issue then with comments by Pressler, a former Texas appeals court judge, that Huckabee had been a slacker in the war against secularists within the Baptist church.

The warmth in Texas and hostility in California reflects the dual personality of the pastor-politician who has broken out of the presidential campaign’s second tier. Huckabee can come across as either a Reagan or a Nixon. More than personality explains why not all his Baptist brethren have signed on the dotted line for Huckabee. He did not join the “conservative resurgence” that successfully rebelled against liberals in the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago.

In short, Novak notes, Huckabee isn’t being given a free pass by some Republicans, who view him as another big government Republican:

Criticism from co-religionists stands apart from criticism by the Club for Growth, the Cato Institute and the Arkansas Eagle Forum of Huckabee’s 10 big-government, high-tax years as governor. Because no Republican candidate since Pat Robertson in 1988 has depended so much on support from evangelicals, opposition by Huckabee’s fellow Southern Baptists is significant.

He ends his column with a paragraph that suggests a Huckabee candidacy could have some “nuance” in terms of evangelical support:

Huckabee’s encounter with Pressler two months ago did not deter the judge from telling me this week much the same thing he said to the Journal’s Fund: “I don’t know of conservative appointments he made, and I don’t know of any contribution to the conservatives.” After Huckabee’s warm greeting in Houston on Tuesday, however, Pressler told me: “I would never do anything to hurt him.” But he did not go so far as endorsing Huckabee for president, and that sends a strong message to conservative evangelicals.

All of this does suggest that some of the breathless media and blog coverage about Huckabee could itself be tempered by unforeseen political events or less-than-monolithic evangelical support.

But, clearly, Huckabee is the one dominating political news on the Republican front and is the one who now seems to have the momentum. If he wins in Iowa, it’s likely to bump-up his tepid present numbers in New Hampshire and, due to the extent of his evangelical support, any post-New Hampshire primaries are likely to accentuate widening splits within the GOP coalition that came together effectively to elect Ronald Reagan.

Most of the news about Huckabee underscores a candidate on the ascent. Even negative news about him somehow frames him as the man on the rise who is under attack. Some examples:

A new poll in Michigan shows Huckabee rising fast, former New York Mayor Giuliani sinking quickly and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with Huckabee breathing down his neck: Mitt Romney, 21 percent, Mike Huckabee, 19 percent. Rudy Giuliani, 12 percent, John McCain, 10 percent, Ron Paul, 4 percent and Fred Thompson, 4 percent. MOST SIGNIFICANT: In terms of poll numbers here, Paul hasn’t gone up more and Thompson looks as if his candidacy has experienced a virtual melt-down.

–A Fox News poll shows the Huckabee surge:

If Republican voters were hoping for a wide open presidential race this holiday season, they are clearly getting their wish. A new FOX News poll shows that Rudy Giuliani (20 percent), John McCain (19 percent) and the surging Mike Huckabee (19 percent) are clustered together at the top of the GOP hill—with Mitt Romney (11 percent) and Fred Thompson (10 percent) still within striking distance. Since a large share of Republican voters are still undecided (13 percent), this race is about as “up for grabs” as any in recent memory.

Giuliani suffered the biggest drop in support since November, losing a full 13 points. On the other hand, Huckabee has shot up from 8 percent in November to 19 percent in the current poll. Romney (up 3 percent) and McCain (up 2 percent) scored small gains in the last month.

As has been widely reported, the overall character of the Republican race has changed dramatically over the last several months. In fact, as late as September, Huckabee registered only 2 percent in a FOX News poll. Barely three months later he is a now co-front-runner.

That’s quite an accomplishment — and the point is the TRENDING is on Huckabee’s side (so far).

Salon’s columnist, centrist Walter Shapiro (one of the best and most-perceptive columnists in the business) says Huckabee’s success is due to his effective use of populism — and in that he most resembles Democrat John Edwards. A small piece of his column:

Of course, Huckabee is laying it on thick, but the candidate is peddling his common-man persona more than any specific set of policies. This time around, Romney (the governor’s son) and McCain (the son of an admiral) lack convincing hard-scrabble stories from their early years. And the Bush family is not exactly the embodiment of portraits in populism…..

…..But the Democrat whom Huckabee appears to be channeling is John Edwards, who never missed an opportunity to remind voters back in 2004 that he was “the son of a mill worker.” At a chaotic rally in a cramped room in a West Des Moines shopping mall Wednesday night, Huckabee lifted a signature Edwards phrase, promising that when he triumphs in Iowa on Jan. 3, “America can say thank you for restoring faith in a political system that’s not just run by corporate greed but is run by ordinary citizens.” Huckabee followed up in Marshalltown by uttering a line of such naked populism that the Baccarat crystal probably rattled in corporate dining rooms around the country: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who doesn’t find himself wholly owned and completely tied to the biggest corporations in the country?”

And, indeed, that would explain what’s happening in the polls far more than just attributing it to a vote for the religious right and a vote to keep a Mormon from getting the nomination: Huckabee is picking up support from voters who seek a populist….and adding those to the others who support him for religious reasons. Will this be a strong enough coalition?

–Huckabee continues to hold a slim lead in Iowa, a recent poll shows.

–Bloggers are more interested in him than ever — but is his organization professional enough yet to take advantage of those bloggers who might be sympathetic to him? Right Wing News’ John Hawkins has tried in vain to contact the Huckabee folks and writes:

I’m not trying to beat up on Huckabee here, but if you’re a top tier contender for the presidency, you ought to at least be organized enough to answer queries from the press within three days time. The fact that Huckabee’s campaign wasn’t able to pull that off tells me that his campaign hasn’t completed the transition from a shoestring effort that got by on the strength of Huckabee’s charisma and religious background to the sort of well organized campaign that someone in his position needs to have.

(FOOTNOTE: Although some campaigns have occasionally run as on TMV we are seldom contacted by campaigns and never invited on candidate conference calls, including by candidates reportedly seeking votes from centrists and independents. This is due to the fact that our writers reflect differing views and our posts on a given candidate can be critical of a candidate one day and more sympathetic the next. Also, as a site TMV does not endorse candidates.)

The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon, Jr. notes that Huckabee’s faith-based politics has friends and foes in both parties. But again: who is dominating the media coverage and is a new “product” for voters to consider? McCain, Romney and Giuliani have finessed some old positions but they are like “pre-owned” cars billed as “pre-owned” versus “used.” Huckabee is the new car on the lot.

All of this taken together indicates Huckabee is “the” present candidate of maximum interest in terms of media coverage and blog coverage. Polls show he’s on the ascent in many areas.

But his camp should take note of the unintentional, non-scripted election news cycle that hits candidates.

First stage: The candidate on ascent.

Second stage: The highly popular candidate stumbles.

Third stage: The candidate on the descent.

Fourth stage: The comeback candidate.

Right now Huckabee is on the first stage — and others are in different stages.

Is there anything in his background or the way his organization is run that’ll propel him to stage two?

The answer — one way or another — should come within a month or two…

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  • kritt

    Novak has always sided with the establishment “Wall Street” candidate. Huckabee is a populist, and is getting a lot of resistance from old school Republicans like Novak, probably because when he claims to be a compassionate conservative, he actually means it.

  • hamiltonm3

    I’ll tell you one thing. That is that I’m a conservative Baptist Evangelical and I have NO intentention of voting for Huckabee. I’m voting for the OTHER Baptist in the race, Ron Paul. Sure, I’m influenced by the fact that Ron Paul is a real, sincere Christian. But I’m even more influenced by his stand in political issues, his keen understanding of economics and foreign affairs, and his integrity – all areas where I find Huckabee lacking.
    Sorry, “Vote for Me, I Love Jesus!” just doesn’t what I’m looking for, as an intelligent person and as a Christian. I’m looking for someone with substance.

    And yes, Huckabee already has disturbing dirt out there. Whether there is more to come is anybody’s guess.

  • casualobserver

    It is interesting to bring Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee into comparison.

    On one hand, the one person in this election cycle that actually has a message that is potentially hugely ripe for the next era of America’s global psyche tramples the message by delivering it through a messenger that doesn’t have the natural feel for effective delivery.

    On the other hand, you’ve got a messenger that does know how to do the retail connection, but he’s badly in need of a message that can captivate.

    It is counter-intuitve for a libertarian to come across as didactic and Paul wrote off his mainstream appeal in the early debates with the ranting, and almost whining delivery. While the lack of compelling other choices has boosted Paul’s stock somewhat by consolidating the “anti-establishment” on both sides, I believe it has failed in its ability to convert dissatisfaction into its necessary positive action steps.

    Huckabee obviously has the Bill Clinton style potential, but also obviously suffers from the lack of having a similarly capable (and calculating) strategist like the Ragin’ Cajun to give the effective messenger an equally effective message.

  • http://www.thoughttheater.com Daniel DiRito

    See a tongue-in-cheek graphic that defines candidate Huck-A-Bee…here:

    http://www.thoughttheater.com

  • casualobserver

    But the Democrat whom Huckabee appears to be channeling is John Edwards, who never missed an opportunity to remind voters back in 2004 that he was “the son of a mill worker.”

    And is still trying in 2007/8, but has yet to even convince the voters in his home state. On that score, I think Huckabee ought to just channel himself…….he’ll have way more credibility as a populist.

  • DLS

    K. Ritter has the best response on this thread to date.

    Look for other establishmentarian sludge like David Broder, George Will, et cetera, ad nauseum, to be downright scummy toward Huckabee if he continues to make progress after February 5, the way Will and Sam Donaldson chose to be scumbags on the air in their openly expressed contempt for Perot in 1992.

  • DLS

    Huckabee obviously has the Bill Clinton style potential, but also obviously suffers from the lack of having a similarly capable (and calculating) strategist like the Ragin’ Cajun to give the effective messenger an equally effective message.

    If he didn’t become the nominee (I see him doing well here in Iowa, but c’mon, we have to consider the rest of the country, with a smaller Religious Right component in many states’ electorates), I could see him becoming the VP selection, which would likely ensure a decent Religious Right GOP vote next year. (The problem is, in that case, who deserves to be the Presidential nominee? Gulp.)