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Florida Evangelicals a different breed of voter than brethren in Iowa, South Carolina
Evangelicals are expected to account for about 40% of the Republican vote on Tuesday's primary in Florida.
January 28th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

Florida Evangelicals a different breed of voter than brethren in Iowa, South Carolina

By John Sepulvado, CNN

(CNN) - Conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed has called the Bible Belt home for decades, but he grew up in Miami in the 1970s, when the city was emerging as a diverse megalopolis.

Among his middle school friends were Jews, Catholics and Methodists.

Then, at age 15, Reed's family relocated to the sleepy mountain town of Toccoa, Georgia, so his dad, a doctor, could take a better-paying job.

“It was very conservative,” says Reed, who now lives outside Atlanta. “At first – as would be true of any 15-year-old – I didn’t like it. I think it was a culture shock.”

Ultimately, the mostly evangelical residents of Toccoa shaped Reed’s faith, helping lead him to Jesus in his 20s. But in terms of his faith-based organizing, the well-known activist drew more on his experiences in hyper-diverse Miami.

"Later on in life, when I became a leader in the Christian Coalition, I had a greater appreciation [for] ethnic and religious diversification,” Reed says.

That could be good news for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is looking to regain momentum from chief rival Newt Gingrich, after the former speaker’s upset in South Carolina, in Florida’s Tuesday primary.

There are signs that Florida’s evangelical voters may be more forgiving of Romney’s past social liberalism than their Iowa and South Carolina brethren – and more willing to support a Mormon candidate.

“I think Romney could do well in Florida,” Reed says.

A more centrist evangelicalism

As a percentage of GOP voters, there are fewer evangelicals in Florida compared to South Carolina and Iowa, where Rick Santorum won the presidential caucuses, according to CNN exit polls from 2008.

In that year, evangelicals accounted for 40% of Republican primary voters in Florida, compared to 60% in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primaries.

And compared to those other early primary states, Florida is much more religiously diverse. In the 2008 primary there, Catholics were nearly a third of the Republican vote, with other kinds of Christians, Jews and those with no religious affiliation each claiming a chunk of the vote.

Still, evangelical Christians claim a bigger share of the Florida Republican vote than any other religious tradition. There also are signs they may be more tolerant of a Mormon candidate than born-again Christians in the Bible Belt and Midwest.

In the South Carolina primary, Romney claimed 22% of the evangelical vote, compared to 44% for Gingrich, according to CNN exit polls.

Florida’s evangelicals are “more open” to the idea of a Mormon in the White House, according to Orlando area pastor Joel C. Hunter.

“Our nature, of being a fairly mobile state, with a lot of tourism and a lot of transcultural and transnational interaction really makes us boundary spanning, rather than sticking to our own affinity groups,” Hunter says.

He leads a congregation of 15,000 at Northland, a Church Distributed, a nondenominational megachurch of the kind that are more popular in Florida than in Iowa or South Carolina.

“For any independent church, you’re going to be open – necessarily open – to non-ready made boundaries, open to other religious groups,” Hunter says. “You’ll be more likely to partner with groups that aren’t necessarily like your own.”

The pastor cites his church’s partnerships with local synagogues and mosques to help local homeless children. For Hunter, teaming up with different religious traditions follows the example of Jesus.

“Jesus talked to the people, the religious leaders others wouldn’t talk to,” he says.

“As an evangelical, I should be ready to talk to a lot of people that aren’t like myself, because that’s what I see in the life of Christ, and I’m looking to build relationships.”

Mark I. Pinsky, the Florida-based author of "A Jew Among Evangelicals," says there are other key differences between evangelicals in Florida and those in Iowa and South Carolina.

“In Iowa,” Pinsky says, “they tend to be rural and older. In South Carolina, they tend to be more fundamentalist, and more likely to be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention,” a denomination that isn’t shy about pointing out theological differences with Mormonism.

Pinsky says Florida evangelicals, especially in the central part of the state, are more likely to have Mormons as neighbors, compared to their brethren in South Carolina and Iowa.

“Nondenominational evangelicals are less likely to demonize someone who is a real person,” Pinsky says.

Less Preaching, More Teaching

Even in smaller Baptist churches in Florida’s Panhandle, there are “notable differences” with Christians in more historically evangelical parts of the country, according to pastor Curtis Clark.

“There’s still a lot of yelling from the pulpit in South Carolina,” says Clark, who leads a congregation of 2,500 at Thomasville Road Baptist Church in Tallahassee. Clark says his congregation is split between Republicans and Democrats, that almost all the adults have college degrees and that the parishioners want to be led, not yelled at.

“I try and teach, try and encourage,” Clark says. “Florida evangelicals are a little bit more educated, and have a broader experience.”

Census figures from 2010 show Florida has a slightly greater share of college graduates than South Carolina.

Both the Romney and Gingrich campaigns are reaching out to evangelicals to quell concerns about their candidacies. Both campaigns held conference calls with influential conservative religious leaders last week, discussing religion, personal and policy decisions.

Many evangelicals have expressed concern about Romney’s past support for abortion rights and gay rights and over Gingrich’s failed marriages.

But Romney doesn’t need to win big among evangelicals to take Florida, Reed says. Because evangelicals make up a smaller portion of Republican voters, Reed says Romney only needs to win a sizeable share of their support.

“If Romney gets a third of evangelical voters” Reed says, “he wins the primary.”

While Romney skipped meeting with some evangelical leaders in South Carolina, including officials at Bob Jones University, his campaign has started more aggressively courting pastors and religious community networks in Florida. The campaign has participated in multiple conference calls with religious leaders and activists.

“In part, I think [the Romney campaign is] more open to outreach by virtue of the Florida demographic,” Reed says.

That suggests the Romney camp suspects Florida’s evangelicals will be more open to his candidacy than other evangelicals in the primary states so far.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Politics

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  6. Max

    Hey whazzzup rednecks, white trash evangelicals maaatttthhhher fakkkers

    March 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  7. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1FTmuhynaw&w=640&h=360]

    January 31, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  8. John

    Religion has caused mankind to slaughter each other by the millions, through the ages. It's an ignorant concept, by ignorant people.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • momoya

      I agree, but it sure is interesting how religion arose to such prominence from the natural process of human evolution.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • ashrakay

      @momoya, Agree. I just finished reading "A Universe from Nothing." If you haven't read it, I recommend it to you both. Looking back on early man, you could argue that basic ignorance paved the way for religion. These days it can only be intellectual laziness and fear.

      January 31, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Iker

      Easier to read may apply only to a certain asecpt of interest. What you can't easily read from the original flow chart is how the changes distribute over the different destinations, especially those who stay within one denomination compared to those who leave.Furthermore, only a matrix like layout allows to compare the in- and out-migrations symmetrically, whereas the color coding always has to decide on one direction (independently from the kind of display we are using)Regarding your comment to areal plots; it's certainly always the area which is proportional to the values (why else would we be using areas?)

      September 9, 2012 at 3:07 am |
  9. John

    Florida evangelicals: A different breed of MORON.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Patrick

      I live in Florida and I agree.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  10. George

    Florida evangelists, get out and vote today!!!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  11. Reality

    Dear Florida Evangelicals,

    Summarizing:

    • There was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • ......

      deny reality hit report abuse on every reality post

      January 31, 2012 at 6:37 am |
  12. Brampt

    What a big mess on this CNN blog. 98% have nothing to do with this blog. Comments go from praying to Jesus, singing to Jesus, atheism...you name it!! I would erase all these and start commenting from the beginning...Commenting the BLOGGGGG!!!

    January 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Christ sets us free from sin and death

    January 30, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom the Piper's Son

      Moron. There's your sign.

      January 30, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Prayer confounds the wise

      January 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Nope

      STEP Research proves you wrong.

      Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.

      The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't prayed for but were told it was a possibility.

      The researchers didn't ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical. The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

      January 31, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  14. Iqbal Khan

    Watch all three parts...

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfOGf4b-fFE&w=640&h=360]

    January 30, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  15. Reality

    Year Ye, Hear Ye Christian Floridians:

    Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:
    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    January 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • ......

      Reality repeat bull sh it alert hit report abuse on it early and often

      January 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Jesus is Lord
    Of Florida Too
    Prayer changes things

    January 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Nope

      Again....

      Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.

      The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't prayed for but were told it was a possibility.

      The researchers didn't ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical. The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • nope a dope

      prayer works

      January 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Nope

      No it doesn't you've been proven WRONG!

      January 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • just helping out

      Last time i checked nope has been consistently wrong

      January 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Phillip Evans

      Again...

      Joh 16:22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
      Joh 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.

      INQUIRY: If Dr. Herbert Benson's study concerning prayer is correct, then LOGICALLY CONCLUDE that those three Christians were given to Christ by the Father like the Eleven (John 17) and that they saw Him in "that day"...

      And don't manipulate my post to make it read what it didn't.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • ashrakay

      Again... Please provide examples, not plat.itudes.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Jesus

      "just helping out," nope provide proof, you did not that makes you a fool.

      January 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • nope a dope

      nope/jesus you can't even communicate properly ' provide proof' me no think you write so good dip stick

      January 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      From an article at http : // www . skepdic . com / prayer . html that includes discussion about the above mentioned study –
      "The results indicate no effect from prayer."

      January 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      From http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all –

      "One reason the study was so widely anticipated was that it was led by Dr. Benson, who in his work has emphasized the soothing power of personal prayer and meditation."

      January 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • captain america

      hotairace is a butt in canadian whose opinion is worth less than dog crap to an American. pound salt hotair go screw up your own country. There's your sign

      January 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Jesus

      "nope/jesus you can't even communicate properly ' provide proof' me no think you write so good dip stick"

      Oh, you are being such a fool, time to repent your sin for being wrong or burn in hell for all eternity..

      January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Jesus

      "Joh 16:22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
      Joh 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you."

      Everyone knows the story about Jesus and the woman about to be stoned by the mob. This account is only found in John 7:53-8:12. The mob asked Jesus whether they should stone the woman (the punishment required by the Old Testament) or show her mercy. Jesus doesn’t fall for this trap. Jesus allegedly states, let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her. The crowd dissipates out of shame. That story was not originally in the Gospel of John or in any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes. The story is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Nor does its writing style comport with the rest of John. Most serious textual critics state that this story should not be considered part of the Bible.

      January 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • ashrakay

      @Jesus, providing quotes from a self-promoting book is not proof of anything in the real world. I.e., quoting that Harry Potter had an invisibility cloak because it's stated so clearly in "The Chamber of Secrets" does not mean Harry Potter exists or that if he did exist that he actually has an invisibility cloak.

      January 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Patrick

      I prayed all Christians would stop believing in Middle Eastern gods from the Bronze Age. It clearly didn’t work. Prayer fails.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  17. Iqbal khan

    The Life of an American Jew in Racist Marxist Israel
    The Life of an American Jew in Racist Marxist Israel Written in 1985 by Jack Bernstein A CHALLENGE. THE CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK ARE EXPECTED TO BRING A STRONG REACTION ...
    http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/israel.htm – Cached

    January 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  18. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voU1tHhGNd4&w=640&h=360]

    January 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  19. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I've come to this lonely place out of contrition. I do have a problem with hotel rooms. They are confining and the sheets are greasy. Moron.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      There's your sign.

      January 30, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  20. ashrakay

    Does this photo remind anyone else of Ted Haggard?

    January 30, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • Al

      Are you saying that this man looks a little light in the loafers?

      January 30, 2012 at 3:47 am |
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About this blog

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.