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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

soundoff (1,828 Responses)
  1. WatchTHEGODMAKERSonyoutube

    Mitt Romney is going to always be loosing about 25% of the vote he could be getting, according to Gallop, due to being a Mormon. If he were a Christian, he would have won the nomination last time around.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      You just gotta love evangelicals that will reject a faithful mormon in favor of a serial cheating converted christian.

      I guess this makes sense in some alternative universe.

      January 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • El Kababa

      From their point of view, a bad Christian is better than a good heretic.

      January 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Fred

      Hate to inform you all, he's not a Christian anymore. He's Catholic. So yes they are voting for a dishonest non-christian because they don't want to vote for an honest non-christian.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  2. WatchTHEGODMAKERSonyoutube

    🙂 🙂

    January 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  3. GoogleTHEGODMAKERS

    🙂

    January 28, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  4. FrankSpeech

    What right does a Mormon have to speak for Jewish people? There should be a "none of the above" selection on the Republican ballot. They are all destroyers of everything the PEOPLE have and want to keep. They are liars who will say anything to appease whatever crowd is before them. Not one is a leader. Not one can be trusted. Run the other way.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  5. Fair Tax Task Force

    George Wrote:

    Your government I assume the the government of the United States of America which is a majority Christian country. We will most certainly not leave your government alone because it is also our government and we want to see it get back to God.

    With people like this I can easily see the history of Germany in 1930s repeating itself in the United States. Who's going to stop it. Certainly not god, because god is in favor of it. Athiests?, Nope, they'll be rounded up into concentration camps for extermination.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • George

      The moment you brought up Nazi Germany and concentration camps, you lost the argument.

      January 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  6. Fair Tax Task Force

    Religion is like a p e n i s.

    It's nice to have one

    It's nice to be proud of it

    It is NOT okay to whip it out in public and wave it around, and

    It is NOT okay to cram it down someone else's throat without permission.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Caveman73

      Well said.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  7. Get Real

    Observer
    "Bill Hicks – a believer since 1994."

    And your verified evidence for this is....?

    January 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  8. Observer

    Bill Hicks – a believer since 1994.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  9. cleareye1

    Eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God's infinite love. -Bill Hicks, comedian and social critic (1961-1994)

    January 28, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  10. ab_contador

    This is part of the reason I dont like Christians - the fact that they elect someone soley based on their "faith" is absurd - JUST PICK THE BEST PERSON FOR THE JOB - religion is a cancer in this country and over the years has caused more harm than good, anybody disputing that has "faith"

    January 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • George

      And the reason that I don't like atheists is because they will not see that the best person for the job is a Christian.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Kebos

      No different then any other religion. People tend to select the same people that belong to their club.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      George – it is clear that you were born about 500 years too late.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Thomas

      The real cancer in America is the lack of faith on God. America became a great nations in worshiping God and is declining as we move away.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Jonesey

      @George – Ya, that's exactly what the country should require from a person to run the most powerful country on earth... a person who will "drive the ship" with their eyes closed with their arms in the air channeling an imaginary voice in their head. That may be cool for you in your twisted, linear and backward theocratic existence... but for the rest of us... well... let some intelligent people make the decisions as to how the country will be workable for ALL, not just a few religious folk who only favor their own kind.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • George

      @Thomas

      Exactly! This is what I've been saying all along.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      Thomas – which god, YOUR god, or will any god do?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • George

      @Jonesey

      Religious people are not stupid. Some of the greatest minds are/were religious. You just don't like the fact that Christian leaders would enforce morality.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      George and Thomas: Go move to Afghanistan or some other country where religion is so engrained that science is crowded out. All the 3rd world countries are religious. Just check out some of the African ones. See what they contributed to the world.
      Seriously. Move there. We don't need you.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Jonesey

      @George – Morality? LMFAO. I have friends of all nature... Christians, LGBT, Hetero, Muslims, Atheists, and Buddhists. Believe me when I tell you Christians are some of the most immoral people I know. They operate their lives being sinners during the week, only to feel confident they will be forgiven on Sunday. I'm sure even Hitler asked for forgiveness before he did himself in "just to be sure." Now that's the morality of religion!!!

      January 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Jonesey

      @Thomas – Just so you have your facts straight... the United States was founded on the freedom of ALL religions, not just Christianity. Learn it, live it.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      I agree.. Proof of their dishonesty, they don't like the loving family man Obama who also want everyone to have health care so they don't have to suffer. And the christians are against this man?

      January 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Fred

      Hate to break it to you George, the only Christians left in this race are Ron Paul and Obama. Are you telling me that you are voting for either of them because they both MUST be the best person for the job? That's your logic?

      It must be nice to have a simple view of the world like this.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      In George's "absolute morals come from The Babble" world, Newt is a christian worthy of his vote.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • captain america

      hotairace is a butt-in canadian as such his opinion is not worth dog crap to American politics. Not to mention he can't even spell the text he is demeaning. Go pound salt hot air we don't need you here. There's your sign

      January 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  11. Fair Tax Task Force

    Sciene flies you to the moon,

    Religion flies you into buildings.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • George

      Did you think that up all by yourself or did you have help?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      It's not mine, I just don't know who the author is, so I can't credit it. It's true though, isn't it?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • just sayin

      Science is a gift God gave mankind
      Religion is assorted beliefs that man put in place
      Truth is found in God not in religion

      January 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • George

      Religion established the first universities so that eventually you could fly to the moon.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • ab_contador

      so very true - all religions are bad

      January 28, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  12. Dr.Fritz

    Google THE SECRET WORLD OF MORMONISM.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Fred

      Google how to go to college and learn how to use your brain instead of voting for who your daddy tells you to vote for.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  13. tony

    Won't the Cruel Crux Clan ever go away?

    January 28, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  14. john316

    These people are still in the Stone Age like the Druids.....cults have always been with cultures....they come and go....Christianity used to be a cult in its time ( still is...) but next year there might be something "new" for the folks that like to have others do their thinking for them....not sure what that appeal is ......why wouldn't you want to make your own decisions about your life and your family.....

    January 28, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • George

      It never ceases to amaze me how atheists think that they are better because they claim to think for themselves. Such arrogance. And I can't tell you how many atheists just parrot what Hitchens and other atheist writers have said. Thinking for themselves ... yeah, right.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      George – athiests don't give a rat's a s s what you believe. They just want religious zealots to stop cramming religion down their throats and into a secular government.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Jonesey

      @George – All religions are arrogant. Their entire MO is to favor those who subscribe to that particular sect... and to minimalize and oppress any other belief systems, or behavior. Just ask the LGBT community about the "love" shown to them by Christianity. The founding fathers were nothing short of Atheists because they knew how destructive religion is to society. Atheism? It's a rejection of the presence of dieties. It's not arrogance. It's a belief that people should cohabitate without their conduct toward others being gauged by the fear of some made up fairy tale.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • George

      @Fair Tax

      Secularism is the biggest, and I mean the BIGGEST, threat to America today.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • George

      @Jonesey

      Hom.os.exuality is sin. Pure and simple. Just as ad.ultery and forn.ication. It is wrong, disgusting and filthy.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      George – ah, the truth begins to emerge. It's not religion, is some ephemeral "socialism".

      In American society of 2012, just what IS socialism George?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Jonesey

      @George – Case and point. We are in the year 2012. Get with the program.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      George – so used to wing nuts spouting about "socialism" I misread "secularism."

      So what's wrong with secularism? Everyone MUST believe like you do? Is that it? How far will you go to force that?

      Will you torture people into believing? Maybe burn non-believers at the stake? Maybe build some gas chambers?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Jonesey

      @George – Sin, sin, sin... it's all focused around the concept of sin and the bible. Fear, fear, fear. Totally laughable. But feel free to continue with your dribble.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • George

      @Fair Tax

      Some of us conservative Christians are fighting for a Christian Amendment to the Const.itution in order to combat secularism.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • George

      @Jonesey

      Laugh all you want. There are plenty of people laughing now, but they won't be laughing when they are burning in hell. And yes, it is about sin.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Good one, George. You're almost convincing-and there are a few nuts out there who are just as crazy as you're pretending to be. Thanks for showing us we should definitely vote Democrat.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Jonesey

      If the prerequisite to going to hell is being tolerant of all people, not just a few who base their conduct toward others based on divisiveness through religious inclusion, then bring it on. I would rather go to hell than have an ugly intolerant soul such as yourself.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      People should not believe everything, maybe not anything, George says. He is on record saying he would vote for Newt, a known adulterer and fornicator.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • George

      @Jonesey

      Be careful. You might just get your wish. Do you have no notion of how horrible hell is? If you doused yourself in gasoline and lit yourself on fire, it would be just a taste of what you will suffer for eternity. For eternity ... can you comprehend that? I can't. But imagine endless agony forever.

      January 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It would be almost as bad as being married to you.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Fred

      George, people like you are actually the biggest threat to this country. People who claim to be God's people but want nothing to do with helping the poor. People who claim to be God's people but don't want everyone to have health insurance. People who claim to be God's people but vote for candidates who increase taxes on the middle class but lower the capital gains tax so the rich can be taxes less.

      People like you are the problem. Jesus would be ashamed of you.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  15. lynn

    As a senior citizen I shake my head at how the evangelical's have taken over our elections and country. I remember my late father wore a cross around his neck as a necklace, but he cheated on my mother for years. If someone says they are an evangelical, I watch my back and wallet.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Mom

      Taken over??? You mean, if a person is an evangelical Christian they shouldn't be able to vote or rally behind a candidate? Wearing a cross does not make a person a Christian. Sitting in church every week doesn't either. When a person accepts the forgiveness that is offered by Jesus Christ and is changed from the inside out, then they are what the Bible calls a Christian.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Fred

      Mom, Lynn is right

      The evangelicals are showing themselves to be nothing but hippocrates. A bunch of Jimmy Swaggarts.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  16. momoya

    @George

    If you want to call "good" a guy that built an eternal torture chamber, then that's your business. Everybody else calls that behavior disgusting and beyond any terrorism we can imagine. Why do you worship a terrorist?

    January 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • George

      We build death chambers for convicted murderers. Why? Because that is justice. Not terrorism.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Jonesey

      @George – I guess you feel the same for "convicted" murderers who actually turn out to be innocent due to flaws in the justice system?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • momoya

      Death is a one time event. Your god could do anything with unbelievers, yet he choses eternal torture. He chose the most disgusting option anyone could imagine. And you like it. Deal with it.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • George

      @Jonesey

      There are no innocents in hell.

      @momoya

      That's just the way it is. No Christian likes it; that's why we are trying to save souls.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      Hitler built death chambers for the Jews. Why, because religion was a useful tool to control the masses.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Observer

      Hitler's death chambers were, to him, a convenient way to solve the Jewish Question.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  17. momoya

    @DeepNorth

    Do you understand how science works? You do realize that when we look at very distant stars, we ARE looking back in time. The scientific data shows a picture that most fits with a big bang sort of event. In fact, most christians herald this science because they think it supports their viewpoint of creation.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      God created it that way just to test your faith.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • cleareye1

      That's true, but only because the truth has a way of forcing its way into the minds of a free people, regardless of the religious beliefs. Only those of truly primitive sects still attempt denial.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Mom

      momoya,
      You do understand that scientists will never, ever know "for certain" anything science "proves". It's all theory. Like the Big Bang theory.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So what, Mom?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • cigarlover6

      By your logic Mom, why do you think you know that your god created this earth, how are you sure?

      January 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  18. Fair Tax Task Force

    Religion is the most destructive force ever conceived by man. More than nuclear weapons or all of the bombs and weapons ever built.

    Virtually every war, and every conflict has been because of religion, or had religion as an important element.

    January 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Todd

      You really know very little about history then. Good try though.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      Todd – any facts to back up your statement, or is it just a matter of "faith"?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Jonesey

      Todd – Your response is laughable... just like your so-called "good book" which was so out of touch at one point that it needed to be revised in order to be more "human" friendly. Take away religion, you eliminate wars. Fact.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      Todd – name ONE major international conflict that did not have relgion as at least an element of control of the population in it.

      WWII?

      The Crusades?

      The current war on terrorism?

      Northern Ireland?

      The entire middle ages was all about wars pushing someone's religion on other people?

      January 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • A Little Help

      The war waged by Vietnam against the Khmer Rouge was inspiring.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  19. Leucadia Bob

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYDFutp5ZxE&w=640&h=360]

    January 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  20. George

    If atheists want to go to hell, why are they so intent on taking as many Christians with them? Is this not the definition of how satan operates? Leading people astray by calling the Truth a lie and a lie the truth?

    January 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • rick

      Atheists do not believe in hell, Georgie.

      January 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      We learned how to do that from "Christians"

      January 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • just sayin

      they will believe.

      January 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • George

      Well many of us do, and to us you are acting just like satan. And hell exists whether you believe it or not. Reality doesn't depend on what you believe.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      If athiests want to go to hell, why is it any of your business? Just leave me an my government the F alone.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      George – why don't you ask the ghosts of the jews tortured and burned in the name of religion if hell exists?

      Answer – it certainly does, and religion creates it right here.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Observer

      Conversation with atheists is strange. A near as can be told, they think they are some sort of robot, but they converse as if they are not.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • George

      @Fair Tax

      Your government I assume the the government of the United States of America which is a majority Christian country. We will most certainly not leave your government alone because it is also our government and we want to see it get back to God.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • One one

      Atheists don't tell children that god will send them to hell to be tortured forever if they don't follow their beliefs. You shouldn't do it either. It's abusive, emotionally traumatizing, and a lie.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Da King

      Fair Tax Task Force, Jesus told us to spread the good news. Touchy Touchy.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      we are witnessing what brainwashing did to George.

      January 28, 2012 at 3:09 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.