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

soundoff (1,828 Responses)
  1. tony

    If God was real, he wouldn't rely on just a handful of missionaries to excruciating slowly spread his word into non-chriistian cultures. It would be grossly unfair to the innocents there.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  2. Freak Watcher

    What a freak show. These dangerous people should be deported or jailed. Or both.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • J. Tolbert

      Yeah, that's right!! And then let's close down all the organizations these 'dangerous' Evangelicals sponsor too (some people call them 'charities'), like their hospitals, day care centers, senior centers, drug rehabilitation programs, homeless shelters, food pantries, children's homes, schools... Then our government can run (and pay for) them. Any takers??

      January 28, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • J. Tolbert

      What, no takers? I didn't think so. OK, folks, let's move on. Nothing to see (or read) here...

      January 28, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • tony

      Where I once lived, all those were government services, available for all without guilt, when needed, paid for by a small part of the taxes on everyone. Which were not hated by the greedy.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • J. Tolbert

      I'm sorry, what planet did you say this was??

      January 28, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • tony

      The one outside your Mammon colored navel

      January 28, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  3. Grandma

    Atheism should be ILLEGAL in America.... those who don't believe in Jesus Christ should be sent to prison for life. We cannot tolerate any idiots in this country

    January 28, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • BethTX

      Always happy to meet a fellow troll.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Dick Bacon

      Don't forget about the gays, granny.

      This is why old people just die.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • One one

      Right on! Everyone should be forced to believe in god! Which god do you have in mind?

      January 28, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Observer

      Artless troll.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  4. Mike in Dallas

    Any relationship between Ralph Reed, the reactionary zealot, and Jesus Christ has got to be purely coinicidental. Absolutely sickening that this self righteous crackpot even claims to follow any of Jesus principles...
    His views and those of the "Florida Evangelicals" sound completely divorced from just about any of the tolerance that Jesus stood for...

    January 28, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  5. rick santorumtwit... America's favorite frothy one

    That guy in the picture looks like he's sliding along the floor on some santorum that somebody leaked.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • BethTX

      Dammit! I stepped in dog santorum and ruined my new shoes.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • rick santorumtwit... America's favorite frothy one

      BethTX... I hate when that happens.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  6. cisom

    All I know is Obama will not balance the budget because his supporters do not expect him to. Romney ran for governer with the intent to "cut the fat." He eliminated 3 billion of State debt. His supporters expect him to balance the budget and he hill.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • sequoia

      You didn't expect or demand Bush balance the budget. Why do you people only pretend to care about the budget and spending when there is a Democrat in the White House? Please. Also, Mittens is a flip-flopping charlatan fraud and vulture capitalist who ruined millions of lives while enriching himself and he will never be President.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  7. Matt


    January 28, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • tony

      And it's FREE!!!. .. .. apart from all those collection plates and the implied "guilt", that is.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • tony

      And of course, due to all the deaths of god's good children prior to 33 AD, Christians will be a tiny minority in Heaven

      January 28, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • One one

      Hey Matt, isn't god supposed to " bless" everyone, not just Christians?

      January 28, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Dick Bacon

      Just don't forget to check your brain at the door.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  8. shameonzionism

    all about money, isn't it? just like what Jesus taught, LOL.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • SurRy

      It's all about $$ with the vile Ralph Reed. Reed was a high-paid lobbyist who was in cahoots with convicted felon Jack Abramoff to cheat the Choctaw Indian tribe by lobbying against gambling in the state while simultaneously taking Choctaw $$ to protect their gambling interests (in violation of the so-called Christian Coalition rules). It's a convoluted dirty story...just google it. Reed is just another greedy typical hypocrite.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  9. tony

    Hey Jim, Anyone checked with Jesus, which type of followers he is OK with? If we settled that, then we could all get on the "right" track. Maybe god will add a new chapter of his words to the bible? although I don't know whether the original would be in Greek, Aramaic, English or Spanish this time?

    January 28, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  10. Jim

    The question of the historical Jesus being real or not has been debated and found that He is most real, lived and died and was resurrected. Any historian worth his weight will tell you that. As for the bible being written centuries after his death, the Gospels were written approximately 35 years after Jesus left this earth physically. There were still people alive that could have refuted what the Apostles were saying and writing and would have destroyed this movement back then but did not and could not. If Christianity were just another false religion or cult, this would have died out long ago. The Apostles knew Christ, lived with and learned from Him and saw Him after He was resurrected. Most of them were martyred and suffered horrible things and died terrible deaths for Him and for what they were proclaiming concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No one, I don't care how dedicated to a cause you are, you will not die FOR a LIE. You might push it to the limit, but die for something you know to be absolutely false, don't think so. The bible as any reputable historian will tell you is the most reliable and unchanged book in history. There are copies of original texts of the books and when compared against the modern versions, show that they are the same.Of the changes in question has been for a word here or there but not the content and context. For those of you who still want to deny or ignore these facts, I liken to someone who sees a speed limit sign. You see it, formulate in your mind that it doesn't apply to you, it's a gag, that someone with his or her own agenda put it there, or a space alien happened to plant it there. You continue speeding along until something happens. You get pulled over by the Police and get a lesson in truth (ticket) that this is real and not imaginary and you will answer to the court for your unbelief and transgression. Same with Jesus Christ. When you look at Him, read about Him, you have to make a decision, who He is and what He is. The conclusion you come to will determine what happens to you once you leave this earth. You can discount Him, believe He is something other than who He said he is, or take Him at His word. He is Lord and God and the only way of Salvation and eternal life. We will either face Him as our Savior, or are Judge. YOU decide.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • lolwut

      "If Christianity were just another false religion or cult, this would have died out long ago." You don't know much about cults, do you? Hahaha.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Colin

      We know virtually nothing about what JC really said or did. It is obvious beyond paradventure that his feats were exagerated by early Christians, like any cult does with its leaders. Certainly the magic, supernatural acts they attributed to him didn't happen

      January 28, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • bff

      I guess I'll have to post this again...

      Other than the bible, is Jesus Christ mentioned in any historical writings of the time, or shortly thereafter?

      None. Despite what some people claim, there are no extra-Biblical records of him at all.
      Even the Bible is not a first-hand account – the Gospels were written some 40 – 100 years after his supposed death.
      There are some problems with his birth as well. The ONLY census of the area was the Census of Quirinius, in 6 / 7 AD. However, Herod the Great died in 4BC – clearly the Gospels cannot be correct.

      Some Christians point to later writings by Josephus, Tacitus or Pliny. However, all of these people were born AFTER Christ's supposed death, they cannot be used as first hand evidence. Also there are serious problems with these sources – most historians (including most Christian historians) think that Josephus's mention of Christ are a later addition – a pious fraud. And Tacitus and Pliny only record Christians – not Christ, and no-one disputes that there were Christians in the first couple of centuries AD.

      None of this means that he did not exist, just that the historical record is entirely lacking – that's the point of faith.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • One one

      Atheists don't tell children that an all powerful god will send them to hell to be tortured forever if they don't follow their beliefs. Shame on you!

      January 28, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • BethTX


      January 28, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Jon

      Great response. However, from gaging the responses, it seems like you may have cast your pearls before swine.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      If we're going to determine which religion is right based on how long they've survived, a lot of you ought to look at converting to Hinduism...

      January 28, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Justin

      "I don't care how dedicated to a cause you are, you will not die FOR a LIE."

      You mean like David Koresh? How about Joseph Smith?

      January 28, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Krivka

      Faithful people kill or die for a lie every day. The Muslim suicide bombers, the animists who kill albinos, the Christians who are fighting the Muslims, the Hindus and the Muslims.
      About the Apostles, I hate to break this to you, but they weren't the authors of the bible and EVERY historian knows it.
      The oldest are in Greek, Jesus spoke Aramaic. About the chance of meeting him and being dealt with when I die. I will only say this, If I do and all the pain and suffering can be attributed to him and he did nothing to help, I will gladly join his foes as I believe HE is the evil one and worth defeating.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  11. Hoss

    The picture they chose made me think this was an article about raves.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  12. Nomad

    Why do we worry abut Mormonism, Evanglicals and Catholics? The GOP candidates have lied all along and tehy are still lying avout their past and just about everyhing. So, we start out with a cnadidate who lies during the campaign. What do you think he / she will do when in office? keep on lying of course. So, we can say for certaain that they are all liars, Who needs a President who is alying top the people? America certainly deserves better but we cannot find an honest man or women. That is that is the real tragedy and the road to hell.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  13. Jesus

    From where will He come from to "git" me? What's His address? The Greeks thousands of years ago believed that God lived high on a mountain. Later it was way up in trhe sky. We've now been to both places and the Moon...No God! Newer religions (e.g. Mormonism and Scientology) decided it was safer for their religion's longevity to put their invisible and imaginary puppet master on another planet. Whatever it takes to run a profitable religion business.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  14. Colin

    Dear Florida Evangelicals:

    God here.

    First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was edited over the Centuries, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who elected to withhold all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifth, I would not care who you do or how you “do it”. I really wouldn’t. This would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Oh, the egos.

    Sixth, I would have smited all you evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and yet you speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric for me to even contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.


    January 28, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • bigdoggie

      Word! A religious fanatic is a very dangerous person! Just look at OBL and Tim McVeigh!

      January 28, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Paul

      Someone who doesn't exist is writing a letter? Maybe the penman should have HIS head examined. Maybe he doesn't exist. (Sigh.) Silly atheists try to be funny, but still blow it. LOL.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  15. haha

    jesus christ, these people are nutty

    January 28, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Nomad

      We should stop telling each other what we have to believe in. God gave all or most of us ( excluding southerners ) a brain to think and make decisions. We have the 10 commandments and we should follow those at least. Do away with all that mand made sects we do not need them. Stop electing millionairs into Government, they are millionairs because they misused their trust given to them by the people.Elect professional people like Teachers, Engineers, Nurses, Electricians and we would be much better off. Lawyers, Finanacial analysts and Real Estate pims are teh worst corrupt people we have in America.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  16. Fhahsd

    It is sad that make believe delusions shape how people vote. It sickens me that these people may have a significant influence over who runs our country.

    January 28, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  17. tony

    If you believe that the nuclear power station down the street is actually working, then the same physics says that the light coming from the Sun is only made deep in the Sun's center where the atomic fusion is taking place. And then that means it takes several million years to climb out against the Sun's gravity and high density of atomic collisions and finally shine on Earth.

    So arguing for the Creation of the Sun just a few thousand years ago, means you dispute nuclear power works.

    January 28, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • haha

      you're talking about people that think god put dinosaur bones here to "fake" us into thinking the earth is older than it is.

      i think they can pull that one off.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • George

      It is a lie that the sun runs by nuclear fusion. If that were the case, the sun would explode or else we would all be killed by the radiation. God put the sun up there.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  18. Drew

    Evangelicals for ROMNEY. We support you. We believe in you. Romney 2012!

    January 28, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Keep that dream alive...it will be dead soon enough! 🙂

      January 28, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • rick santorumtwit... America's favorite frothy one

      Aren't you evangelicals supposed to be supporting Rick (anal foam) Santorum?

      January 28, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  19. maniacmudd

    man...how sad....

    January 28, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  20. scoto

    depressing to read this stuff in the 21st century

    January 28, 2012 at 9:52 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.