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Huckabee announcement puts evangelical votes up for grabs
Mike Huckabee at Washington’s National Press Club in February.
May 16th, 2011
06:49 PM ET

Huckabee announcement puts evangelical votes up for grabs

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - With former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s announcement this weekend that he won’t seek the presidency, one of the largest voting blocs in the Republican Party is now officially up for grabs: evangelical Christians.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Huckabee - a Baptist minister who focused on faith-related issues like opposition to abortion - rode evangelical support to victory in Iowa and seven other states during the primaries and caucuses. John McCain eventually won the GOP nomination.

With Huckabee on the sidelines, other Republican White House hopefuls will have a better chance of picking up evangelical votes, which accounted for more than half the GOP electorate in Iowa and South Carolina in 2008, according to polling.

“Mike Huckabee had virtually unprecedented appeal among evangelicals in the Republican Party,” says Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "[His] announcement leaves a huge void among one of the most potent constituencies in the GOP at a time when the race is highly fluid and arguably wide open.

“Whoever does the best job of securing a plurality of Huckabee and social conservative voters in Iowa, South Carolina, Florida and other early primary states will likely emerge as the Republican standard-bearer,” said Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Some influential evangelical voices say it’s too early to tell whether born-again Christian voters will largely gravitate toward a single candidate, as happened with Huckabee in some states in 2008, or whether they’ll split support among candidates.

“Among the people I’m talking to, [Huckabee's announcement] basically throws the race wide open,” said Michael Farris, a Christian activist who actively supported Huckabee in 2008.

Farris, who has been lobbied for months by some GOP presidential candidates, said one obvious beneficiary of the Huckabee news is Tim Pawlenty.

A former Minnesota governor, Pawlenty is an evangelical Christian who is popular in the anti-abortion movement.

But representatives for other probable and declared candidates argued that their campaigns are well positioned to inherit Huckabee’s evangelical support.

“Huckabee had a large basis of support in Iowa, and 60 percent of that came from evangelicals, and everybody is going to be vying for that same constituency,” said Rick Tyler, spokesman for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

“Newt’s been doing a lot of work over the last four years meeting with Iowa pastors,” Tyler said. “My guess is we’ll have a real shot at being the candidate of a large percentage of Huckabee’s supporters.”

Mark DeMoss, a Christian public relations executive and unpaid adviser to likely presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said he thought Huckabee’s announcement “is helpful and Governor Romney certainly benefits from it.”

“But I don’t think anybody lays claim to the so-called evangelical vote,” DeMoss said. “It’s much less monolithic than it may have been in previous elections.”

Romney and Gingrich have well-publicized challenges to winning evangelical votes. Romney is a Mormon and once held moderate positions on social issues like abortion, though he has since moved to the right. Many evangelicals say Mormons are not Christians.

Gingrich, meanwhile, has been married three times and has admitted to an affair with his wife, Callista, while he was married to his previous wife.

“Romney is not considered a trustworthy person in our community,” said Farris, who is the founder of Patrick Henry College in Virginia, which caters to Christian students who have been home-schooled.

“There is a fairly strong view that if Romney is the nominee, people will walk away from the party,” he said.

“Newt is brilliant but his chances of getting the nomination are close to zero,” Farris said. “There’s a strength of rejection around character issues that I don’t think it’s possible for him to overcome.”

Pawlenty, for his part, is familiar to many conservative Christian activists but remains unknown to much of the country.

After Huckabee’s announcement, some conservative Christian activists said substantial evangelical support may now go to longer-shot potential candidates like Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

"With the exit of Mike Huckabee from the race, Sarah Palin must be sitting in Alaska examining the new opportunity to vacuum up evangelical and social conservative voters,” said Gary Marx, a Christian activist who led Romney’s outreach to conservative voters in 2008.

Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Mike Huckabee • Politics

soundoff (338 Responses)
  1. jo

    Why does everyone waste their time commenting here? I can't believe I wasted so much of my time reading this article and so many ignorant statements. It is funny that the majority of these comments on this article and articles like it are from left wing liberals that really don't have much to say. Shouldn't you get out and work and stop wasting all your time reading and commenting on these pointless articles. No wonder you support socialism. You can then not work and get paid to vent your ignorant opinion on pointless articles all day.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Stevie7

      @jo,

      I heart irony

      May 17, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  2. Ricnaustin

    Who wants to take the most difficult job on the planet, especially inheriting a colossal mess?

    Obama has shown huge guts, courage and stamina, whether we agree or disagree with what he is doing. We are not in the White House, and really do not have a clue how difficult this job is. Expecting change over night is unrealistic and absurd at best.

    GObamaGO 2012!

    May 17, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  3. James

    For those who say Ron Paul gets no consideration because he doesn't look cute or is too old, I laugh because I know he doesn't get consideration because he is crazy. Look at his crazy son. He says some coherent things that make sense and then he lets the crazy out. Who needs public education...that's socialism. Who needs medicare or social security. Let the businesses set their own rules. Americans just won't buy gas if they don't like the oil companies practices. He is delusional. His ideas would lead to out and out Fascism.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  4. ben gaida

    Jesus's agenda was love,compassion n help for those who need it,is there someone out there..!

    May 17, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  5. indydave

    The best thing that can happen in this election cycle is for the fundies to be confused, disorganized and not united. The last thing we need is a Dominionist in office. One would hope we've learned how things go wrong when some dope thinks he has some god's anointment to rule however he wants with no rational basis: it's a recipe for a big mess.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  6. Aaron

    Worst of luck to whomever gets stuck with the looney evangelicals. They make demand after demand, force the politicians to make unpopular promises, then scream bloody murder when they never get what they're promised, which is usually the case.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  7. mach932

    LOL!!! retarded libs are so predictable.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  8. Bible Clown

    He threw his support behind Trump, who quit an hour later. I guess his followers will all go vote for Palin now.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  9. Flora

    Mormenz are NOT Christians. I'm a pagan, but I like truth in advertising. Like Muzlimz,who are also part of the middle-eastern Abrahamic, montheistic tradition, they have their own holy book that post-dates and supercedes the New Testament, given by an angel to their prophet. Mormenz scare me as much or more than Muzlimz. Mormenz are better organized and richer. They want to turn this county into a theocracy with S.L.CityUtah on top. If you leave their sect, they don't physically kill you, but they do socially. i wouln't trust a Mormenz politicial to do the voters will over SLCIty's. At least Muzlimz have a had a history of (admittedly long ago) history of tolerance and artistic and scientific achievement. The Mormenz hierarchy just comes across as a bunch or arrogant bullies who maniputlate the truth for their own ends.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • James

      Sounds like you are not the person who should define a Christian. You are sorely misinformed about Mormons and are letting your ignorance and fear show. Mormons believe in separation of church and state unlike some that will remain nameless. If you are not a Christian yourself what do you care what book they believe in. BTW they do believe in the bible (old and new Testament). Last I checked they did not shun people or have a mechanism in place to hurt them socially. You are just another Xenophobe.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • RLP1509

      It's a tie!!! @Flora and @Noemi have both made the most equally ignorant comments on this article!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  10. Carl

    It truly saddens me to see self-proclaimed Christians spewing forth hate. Have you forgotten who you follow? Sadly, the press and most non-believers have been tainted by the politically motivated, right wing extremists who use Biblical references to push their agenda. They have set Christianity back to the days of the Crusades, where they were just as wrong then as today's activists are wrong today. I implore my fellow Christians to examine their faith and re-read the words of who they follow. I follow Christ, not the right wing conservatives.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  11. cecilia

    His faithful followers will go to anyone who is against Choice but does not want to care for homeless children or feed them or help a parent with prenatal healthcare. anyone who is opposed to abortion but does not want planned parenthood to provide education and birth control – it is the yeng and yang of a "Christian" without out Christianity

    May 17, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • frink

      ^this^this^this^^this^this^this^this^this^this^this^this^this

      May 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  12. Jimbo-Bob

    Evangelicals hurt the republican party. To many politicians try to pander to them making the platform they run on unattractive to a huge percentage of the right, I'm one of those. I will never be represented if the evangelicals hijack 1 of the 2 parties, how are we ever going to get a fiscally conservative socially liberal/moderate in the whitehouse with these people not being able to think for themselves and voting the same way.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • MarkinFL

      McCain was your best chance until this last election when he finally gave up his integrity and jumped on the far-right wing bandwagon. I actually respected him until he did that.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • James

      You should start your own party because the crazy right have their claws in the Republican party. Libertarians have some good ideas but will leave open the doors for corporate predatory practices and the same crash that just happened. Fiscal Conservative party sounds good, you might try that.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  13. Aaron

    The GOP is in a pickle. They have 2 groups of people to deal with this time around; the emboldened Tea Party libertarian types and the social conservative evangelicals. I don't see them coming up with a candidate with a strong enough appeal across that spectrum to hold it all together while still appealing to the moderates needed to win the whole enchilada.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Yep, but its a pretty entertaining pickle ain't it?

      May 17, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Jimbo-Bob

      The tea party was libertarian for about 2 weeks before the morons came in and took it over without anyone inviting them over. The religious right is in full swing in the tea party, that's why I stopped supporting them.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  14. James

    If "Evangelists" vote as a block then their status as a religion should be revoked and they should be listed as a political party. Their tax exempt status should also be revoked. Any religion that tells it's members how to vote should lose tax exempt status.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  15. noemi

    romney is a mormon.he belongs to the biggest cults in the free world.how could anyone vote for him ? Mormonisum is not a religon its a cult.they wear holy under wear under there clothes.if you don't belong to therre cult u are not allowed into there cult temple.they have a building they call a church with no reliougs meaning.they take 10 percent from peoples wAges if they don't pay they come after there people like a bank would. And take it from them.how do you people think he's already got his 10 mil.they take from there own to make there pockets fuller.not that what he does is different than other poloticans.the other s don't try and take away everything u work for. This is what this cult does. What well they take away from the american people if they run for presidencey? It would send our country back 100 yrs.good for there cult bad for our country.stop the cult leaders trying to take over this country.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The Catholic church is much much larger.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • James

      You are a xenophobic moron. Even though I will not vote for Romney, he does not get money from his church and probably gives 10% to them. You sound more like a cult member than any Mormon. You let your church dictate your reason. You are the reason why the republican party is going down hill fast.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • frink

      Do you know what the difference between a cult and a religion is?

      Money. Therefore the mormon church is a religion. Completely made up? Yes? Strange? Yes, just like all the rest of these idiotic religions.

      QED

      May 17, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • nutcasesabound

      Is spell check also a cult? Maybe that's why you don't believe in it. Just FYI, their, there and they're have different meanings. Oh, and by your reasoning (or lack there of), our Government is also a cult. They have buildings we can't enter (the Pentagon), they take more than 10% of my income, and at least the Supreme Court Justices are required to wear funny clothes. Oh and one more thing. I'm not a Mormon, but I have been in one of their Temples. I took a tour of the Atlanta Temple just last month before it was "dedicated" for use by members. I guess all "cults" decorate with white carpet and pretty paintings.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • something

      How much study have you put into the Mormon church? It sounds like you just hear information from one source and spit it back out like most of the radical right. Of course the Mormon churches have religious meaning. Have you ever been inside one? Have you ever objectively listened to a Mormon explain their religion?

      May 17, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Stevie7

      Mormonism is no weirder than any other religion – it just came along a lot later. When you think about what the RCC believes, for example transubstantiation, its really just as odd.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • RLP1509

      I stand corrected, @noemi has made the most ignorant comment in this article!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  16. Matt

    Well, he put himself in a good position for a VP nod. By bowing out and avoiding the muck-smearing of the primary, he keeps is dignity and could get the #2 position on a ticket. Newt would need him to clean up his dingy moral record.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Basically setting himself up as a king maker with the potential to draw in all those evangelicals? Sounds possible.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  17. Justin Observation

    I suspect any candidate who the media decides is the most extreme panderer to the evangelicals, will get all the attention and therefor, most of their votes. Because the media gets better ratings by dividing people into various blocs, compartmentalize and polarize their news stories, and creating huge controversy where it would normally not exist, and then the people blindly follow along, thinking that they must be loyal to one extreme, or it means they are loyal to the other. "Evangelicals" can't vote for anyone the latest hyped up propaganda doesn't tell them to, because it means they would be siding with, and worshiping, the devil. Same with liberals, conservatives, environmentalists, libertarians, black people, rich people, poor people, Hispanics, etc... We the people don't decide who will be president, it's decided for us, through 30 second ads, opinionated news shows, corporate propaganda, political action committees, pundits, think tanks, sound bites, and all these fabricated conflicts that direct the national conversation into superficial, reality show styled, political fights.

    Immigration: Either you are for letting all the illegals run free, or you want to shoot them all on site.
    Abortion: Either you want to force women to have their rapist's baby, or you want to force all women to have an abortion.
    Terrorism: Either you want to die, or you want to kill.
    Energy: Either you want to force people to ride bicycles, or you want to drill in every park, beach, and neighborhood in America.
    Global Warming: Either you think we can and must control it or we're all going to die, or you think it's a mythological fabrication designed to make people buy funny looking light bulbs and to take away our SUVs.
    Foreign Policy: Either you want to make the whole world Americanized, or you want to make America into a foreign country.
    Domestic Policy: Either you want to let corporations run our nation, or you want America to become a socialist country.
    Economy: Either you want to take from the rich and give to the poor, or you want to take from the poor and give to the rich.

    Although the extreme polarization of the U.S. makes for great TV, it makes for a lousy government. It means the extremists get elected on both sides, and all progress is halted as they bicker back and forth about the smallest of things, and simply ignore the biggest of things. They can't get anything done because any policy is filled with everyone's quirky interests and loopholes for their campaign donors and the voting blocs they pander to.

    Soap box speech over...

    May 17, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Susie

      And exactly who wants to "force" women to have abortions? The worse case scenario is "freedom" to choose, not force. Though I see your point, the extremism is over exaggerated so it kind of loses the point.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The answer to all of this is a real education. Why do you the repubs fight good public schools? Our governor is doing everything he can to siphon money away from public schools and give it to private parochial schools. They want the populace either ignorant or indoctrinated and preferably both.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • frink

      I agree and have been saying this for years. Also I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • mr atkins

      Beuatifully said.........

      May 17, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • ThinkAgain

      Last time I checked, humans all have brains and free will. While I agree with you that the media loves to highlight controversy, that doesn't stop those of us who know how – and care – to think from deciding things for ourselves (including, upon occasion, choosing not to vote for candidates and/or issues about which we don't know enough to make an informed decision).

      My suggestions:

      1. Encourage voter participation in researching the issues; discourage voter apathy and laziness.

      2. Support those organizations that fact-check political advertising and help them spread the word about all the lies out there.

      3. Support critical thinking. A good place for this is in middle school and high school. Teach logic and apply it to real-life situations like the manipulation found in the media.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • 48Dave

      A very just observation, Justin. I've seldom read a better analysis of our current political dilemma.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  18. InFormed99

    Huckabee pulled out because on May21st, all the Evangelicals will be leaving...

    May 17, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Luke

      To assume that the idea of the world "ending" on May 21 is a widely held belief in the evangelical community is shamelessly ignorant. Get out of the hole your prejudices against religion have buried you in. It's one small radical group, and I'm sure I can find someone who believes whatever you believe who is just as crazy. You fool.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • James

      I can't wait.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • nd

      lol...great comment InFormed

      May 17, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Stevie7

      Well, if true, then according to that whacked prophecy the world ends on 10/21. So there won't be another election and this is all pointless anyway. Still, five months without evangelicals would be nice.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  19. LeeCMH

    Who will get Huckster's voters? The Republican who spews the most vile hateful Christian venom between now and the elections.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • MrHanson

      Yes, I wish they were more tolerant like you.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • James

      Sad but true.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Stevie7

      Tolerance isn't the same as keeping your mouth shut. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's not intolerant to point out that it is, indeed, a duck

      May 17, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • tstorm

      The Republican "sheeple" will follow... depending on what Fox News tells them to do!

      May 17, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Sari in Vegas

      Who gets Huckabee's evangelical voters? In the end, the ground and decomposition- just like the rest of us schlubs out here...

      May 17, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  20. ben gaida

    I think the evangy should wait till 2016 maybe jesus will be back then...!

    May 17, 2011 at 9:37 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.