Republican presidential wannabee Mike Huckabee has played his experience as a Southern Baptist minister and president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention into second place in Iowa polls.
Huckabee has moved from about 8 percent last summer, to 24 percent in a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey.
The Los Angeles Times reports Huckabee being backed by 44 percent of evangelical Protestants, who make up four in 10 Republican caucus goers. But the Times points out there are doubts about Huckabee:
Some conservatives are leery of his views on taxes, pointing to his Arkansas record.That's an issue which was hammered home by conservative columnist By Robert Novak in an article titled, "The False Conservative:"
The Club for Growth, which advocates limited government and lower taxes, points out that as governor he increased taxes on sales, gasoline, cigarettes and nursing homes. He says he had little choice because of court-ordered spending increases or rising federal entitlement spending for programs "over which you don't have executive control."
Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist advocate of big government and a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans. Until now, they did not bother to expose the former governor of Arkansas as a false conservative because he seemed an underfunded, unknown nuisance candidate. Now that he has pulled even with Mitt Romney for the Iowa caucuses and might make more progress, the beleaguered Republican Party has a frightening problem.Huckabee's new ad, which starts with a close-up of Huckabee and speaking directly to the camera and then superimposes the words "CHRISTIAN LEADER" over an image of Huckabee on a farm, may highlight his beliefs and appeal to his evangelical targets in Iowa, but it will frighten more voters in the end:
The rise of evangelical Christians as the force that blasted the GOP out of minority status during the past generation always contained an inherent danger: What if these new Republican acolytes supported not merely a conventional conservative but one of their own? That has happened with Huckabee, a former Baptist minister educated at Ouachita Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The danger is a serious contender for the nomination who passes the litmus test of social conservatives on abortion, gay marriage and gun control but is far removed from the conservative-libertarian model of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
There is no doubt about Huckabee's record during a decade in Little Rock. He was regarded by fellow Republican governors as a compulsive tax-and-spender. He increased the Arkansas tax burden 47 percent, boosting the levies on gasoline and cigarettes. When he lost 100 pounds and decided to press his new lifestyle on the American people, he was hardly being a Goldwater-Reagan libertarian.
The New York Times reports the ad is clearly using Huckabee's faith to differentiate himself from his Republican rivals. Americans want their leaders to have a faith, but they don't care for leaders who are perceived as, well, too evangelical.
The National Right to Life Committee has endorsed Thompson, Bob Jones III and Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich backs Romney, and televangelist Pat Robertson supports Giuliani.
In his "Bad for Huckabee, good for America," Dan Gilgoff writes that this picking and choosing among candidates is a sure sign that many evangelical leaders have moved beyond mere identity politics and toward an overdue openness to compromise in a political system that's built on it:
Gilgoff has it about right. The religion card Huckabee played is too sectarian.
Does a proudly pluralistic nation want candidates openly appealing to voters on sectarian grounds -- as Huckabee seemed to do at the Values Voter Summit -- so that evangelicals back only solidly evangelical candidates, Catholics support orthodox Catholics and Jews vote for faithful Jews?
Perhaps Huckabee didn't intend to ask for votes on the basis of church membership. Perhaps he merely wanted to communicate that he's more solid on hot-button social issues like gay marriage and abortion than his GOP competitors. On that grounds too, the failure of his ideological purity to translate into more Christian right support is still good news for American politics.
Is Huckabee on the path blazed by Pat Robertson in 1988, when Robertson finished second-place in Iowa then stalled?