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)

    I would never vote for an evangelical whether I was Republican or not. I would vote for no religious freaks whatever their faith. Keep it to yourself. Tell me what you're going do for the USA instead.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Frogist

      Does that mean you don't vote? Every candidate in recent years has proclaimed his/her religious background as a consideration.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  2. toshmaster1

    The answer is.... another hick-a-bee

    May 16, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  3. fitz

    Great! Here we go with religion and politics again. I have to wonder what Danny Pearl thought about this!? Or George "W" – that arrogant piece of Texas roadside litter. If ever before, the evangelical vote will definitely help us out in battling the Middle Eastern extremists.....they're just SOOO tolerant and understanding!!!!!

    May 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  4. chaz Romano (not real name. take that CNN)

    religion has no place in politics.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • DavidnCA

      Just ask the Taliban!

      May 16, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • bam

      yeah! ask the christian taliban! the christian taliban maddrasahs.... they hate our way of life. if we are not with them then we are against them

      May 17, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  5. Ryan

    I hope John Huntsman runs. Although he may be too moderate to get the nomination (and too Mormon for some Evangelicals), but if he could get it, he would be the most likely to be able to beat Obama.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  6. John in Colorado

    It was Gandhi who said, "Your Christ I like. Your Christians are nothing like your Christ."

    May 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  7. ufadoof

    Why not vote for Jesus and be done with it? At the very least it would prove he is real.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Frogist

      Now there's a write-in vote I'd like to see!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  8. William

    If the evangelicals vote for Newt Gingrich, they are a bunch of blind hypocrites.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Perrin

      True, and they also will be that even if they don't /can't vote for Newt.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  9. haha

    The Evangelical aka the stupid vote.

    May 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Popso

      Lovin' this comment. Soooo stupid too. LOL!

      May 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  10. Vence

    Palin-Gingrich 2012

    May 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Jesus

      I love it!! That would be a dream ticket that MAY finally put an end to the GOP's courtship of the lunatic right.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Dave

      Pail-Gingrich – Gag! Ron Paul is the only honest person in Congress and the only one with the correct ideas on how to save this country from idots like you that keep voting in the same stupid Dems and Reps.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  11. Betty Boop

    Newty go home to Mommy and leave us the f&*k alone!

    May 16, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  12. RightturnClyde

    With Trump shredded by the left wing media and Huckabee bowing out before they can get to him ... Palin a**in*ted by them as well ...there cannot be a two party race in 2012. So now you have the Chicago machine except at the national level. If you want to see how a "macine" runs things look at Chicago. (or even better .... at Cuba ... where a "new car" is a 1953 .. and rodents are fresh meat)

    May 16, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Andrew

      Yes, Palin certainly had some horrible character a-sas-ination... she had to answer really tough questions like 'what do you read', and has yet to appear on any unfriendly or difficult news program in years. Clearly it's the left wing media which killed her, by letting her... umm... talk on friendly air?

      She's a talking points machine, that's all she does, it's not some "left wing media conspiracy" to make her look bad, she's done that all by herself. What has the "left wing media" really done to her, especially considering she doesn't even attempt to hold interviews period. As a politician, she's spineless, and anyone who believes she's had character a-sas-ination clearly cannot tell the difference between a talking point, and actual knowledge of a subject.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • DavidnCA

      Poor poor sarah. Hung out to dry by the media for critiquing her using her own words. There's an old saying; if you can't stand the heat....

      May 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • BADGUY

      So....what's wrong with Chicago? I wish the USA WAS run like Chicago. We'd have a good looking country with realistic social programs. What's the alternative? Mississippi? Arizona?. I'll take the Chicago model!

      May 16, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Frogist

      Trump needed no shredding. He was a joke from the start and anyone who seriously believed he was a viable candidate seriously needs some self-inspection.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  13. vwman

    Do all evangelicals vote the same way?

    May 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Peter F


      May 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Jesus

      Not all, but most

      May 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  14. Dave

    Interesting, the official name of the Mormon religion is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

    May 16, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Jesus

      Read the Book of Mormon. Unbelievable!! I think I may start a new religion. It doesn't take much and the revenue is spectacular.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  15. MK

    I certainly hope all those pastors/churches Newt (and others) have (and will be) speaking to who will in turn speak to their congregations in the capacity of a pastor/church understand they will (or at least should) immediately lose their tax exempt status.

    May 16, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  16. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Jesus told him he's nothing but a loser!

    May 16, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Dave

      Dumb azz...

      May 17, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  17. Peter F

    Radical Idea: Perhaps not all evangelical Christians belong to the GOP. Good thing...

    May 16, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  18. Vivek

    Hopefully Sarah will run. It will be entertaining to see all these GOP clowns debate

    May 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Jesus

      I loved it when these GOP candidates were asked who does NOT believe in Darwin's evolution theory. Hands sheepishly rose including Pastor Hucklebuck. Who will take his place? Well, the GOP field is full of dolts so that shouldn't be difficult.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Andrew

      Jesus, to be fair, that's a bad question. Darwin's theory of evolution was weak and incomplete and also wrong on a few levels. It had no genetic component, and would have been entirely unable to deal with something like lateral gene transfer. Anyone even moderately well schooled on evolutionary biology would have reservations saying "they believe Darwin's theory of evolution", because the theory is no longer very similar to what Darwin originally proposed. That said, I doubt many of the republican candidates were objecting to it on the principle that Darwin's theory was not nearly as complete as the modern evolutionary theory.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Oleg

      Andrew, this may be knitpicking, but how much do mechanisms like lateral gene transfer really play a role in recent human evolution? I'm a University student right now, and we're being taught in class that modern molecular biology backs up Darwin very well (at least for animals).

      May 17, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Andrew

      Oleg, for animals, darwin's theory does work quite well, but animals don't make up the majority of the biomass on the planet. Yeah, it works fine for us humans, but that's neglecting the virtual entire rest of the biomass on the planet. Lateral gene transfer plays an integral part for bacterial evolution for instance. And, in fact, even more complex eukaryotes (of which we are of course included) it isn't unheard of. For example we have some genes borrowed from mitochondrial DNA... as the mitochondria probably evolved separately from eukaryotes and was incorporated later.

      But considering how the theory of evolution is our explanation for the diversity of all life on the planet, limiting yourself to metazoa is kinda like ignoring special and general relativity in favor of newtonian relativity. Sure, it's right over the narrow area you're looking at, but it is wrong (or more specifically, overly simplistic) on a much larger scale.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  19. Henry

    So what to do with those make believe Christians, the ones who totally forget Jesus' message and just pretend to be saved. These evangelicals are either a bunch of nasty people who want to carry a flag in one hand and a bible in the other or they are just plain ignorant of their faith and just meekly follow as their money grubbing pastors and priests lead them around by their noses. Either way, a sad lot indeed.

    May 16, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • PeterVN

      whereas you, Henry, are a true Scotsman.

      May 16, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Andrew

      PeterVN, I disagree, in fact I have to say that no true Scotsman would ever claim something like this.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • jon

      you seem to have a serious chip on your shoulder. let it go

      May 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • BADGUY

      I heard a Catholic Priest on the radio tonight say there is nothing wrong with the Catholic Church taking a position in American Politics. Maybe so.....but....if a threat of ex-communication or even, the refusal of communion is enough to intimidate strong believers into voting the way the Catholic Church tells them to, then, the Catholic Church could be a potent threat to our democracy. Unlike other organizations (AARP, Unions, Corporations) a threat of "eternal damnation" gives the Catholic Church unprecidented power to control election outcomes. Very powerful. Very dangerous.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • DavidnCA

      @ BADGUY- when that happens it's time to tax the hell out of the "church". If they want to dabble in politics then they can pay taxes. Anyway- religion and politics do NOT mix. Just ask the Taliban.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • BADGUY

      The use of religion to favor one party or another is very dangerous. A member is led to believe he faces eternal damnation if he doesn't vote the way he is told by the church. It takes reason out voting decisions and replaces it with fear. Very Bad.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • David Johnson


      The Evangelical pukes make up the bulk of the Christian Right. This is what they want. What they really, really want!

      The Texas history books are rewriting history to give the conservative slant. The objective of this effort, is to create a Christian Nation, a theocracy with Jesus as head.

      A huge campaign is underway, to convince the American people, the founding fathers never intended a separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson's role as a founding father is played down. In some cases Jefferson is smudged.

      Expect an attack on the 1st and 14th Amendments. The founding fathers will weep.

      Most of the Tea Party are for a Christian Theocracy.

      The Republicans are the puppets of the Religious Right and the Rich.

      You will see an amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. The repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell", will be in grave jeopardy. Gay rights will dwindle and die.

      Roe Vs. Wade will be reversed. Women will once again be forced to seek back alley remedies.

      Stem cell research will stagnate. The hopes of damaged and sick people will be dashed.

      P_ornography will be illegal. The Religious Right will decide what is p_ornographic , as well as what is art. You will watch television programs approved by the Evangelicals. Lots of reruns of "Growing Pains", starring that Evangelical darling Kirk Cameron. Thank you Jesus!

      Creationism will be taught in school, most likely alongside evolution rather than instead of, but no guarantees.
      Little Johnny will believe in talking snakes and Zombie Messiahs. The rest of the world is spending their time learning real science and math. Good luck Johnny. Can you say: "Would you like fries with that?"

      State Sponsored Prayer will be in our schools. The Christian Right think they know better than the Founding Fathers and want to tamper with the Bill of Rights. They want to amend the U.S. Const_itution so that the Government would legally sponsor and take over the activity of prayer. Only the one true god, the Christian god, will be given homage. The non-Christians will be allowed to put their heads down on their desks, during the morning worship. They can contemplate their damnation, for not accepting Jesus.

      $ex education will consist of abstinence only. Studies have shown it is a worthless concept. Ladies, cross your legs!!!

      The war against unions, commenced during the Bush administration, will continue.

      Jesus will be the Head of State! And only the Evangelicals will be able to hear His voice. They will tell the rest of us His will. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

      We will be a slave to a make believe god. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny.


      May 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  20. David Johnson

    Evangelicals use to just wait on Jesus. I guess they realized Jesus isn't coming. So now they vote. LOL


    May 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • PeterVN

      Maybe the evangelicals can all be convinced that voting is against the will of their god. You've probably thought of that.

      May 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Casey

      Ever heard of William jennings Bryant

      May 16, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Daniel


      This Evangelical votes in every election because the Bible teaches me to pray for my political leaders and to trust in God.

      I'll only vote for a candidate that is pro-life because God is pro-life.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Jesus

      I wish they'd follow the Jehovah's Witnesses who do NOT vote. The fewer dolts at the polls, the better this country will be.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Andrew

      Daniel, god seems to have a strange habit of reflecting the personal values and opinions of the people who believe in him. "Believers' estimates of God's beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people's beliefs" is an interesting article provided to PNAS. No one ever seems to say that what they believe isn't what god believes, or what god believes isn't what they believe. There's good reason to argue that what you claim is 'god' is really just your own personal beliefs being reflected on your religious beliefs.

      It may surprise you, but some Christians are pro-choice because they don't believe they are allowed to legislate their morality on others. That doesn't make them for abortions, they may view abortions as repugnant, they may not, but still are pro-choice with their advocacy.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • pazke

      Umm...God being omniscient and all, I don't think "he" BELEIVES anything. He KNOWS.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Andrew

      pazke, god probably doesn't exist in the first place, but that's irrelevant. The issue is that what people claim god "knows", "prefers", "believes", WHATEVER you want to call it, reflects the personal beliefs of the individual rather than some general "beliefs, knowledge, whatever" of some deity. People claim god supports their beliefs, and in fact when personal beliefs change, usually their opinion of what god supports changes as well. I don't care if someone wants to believe in a god, but every time they go saying 'god is pro, anti- ____' they're just making statements of their own beliefs and saying it's in line with god. I'm trying to show that the rhetoric of 'what I say is what god supports' is absurd, as it is clearly reflective of the individual, rather than of the god. As I said, god probably doesn't even exist in the first place, so what word I use for god's 'beliefs', or 'knowledge' has no baring on my point.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • bam

      If this god is pro-life then why did he tell u to crusade against the non believers?
      "I'll only vote for a candidate that is pro-life because God is pro-life."

      May 17, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • David Johnson


      No, was he related to William Jennings Bryan the politician active in the late 19th early 20th century?


      May 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
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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.