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Jewish World Review
January 21, 2008
/ 14 Shevat, 5768
Base Runner: Huckabee tries but fails to win the votes of non-evangelicals
John H. Fund
Mike Huckabee tried his best to expand beyond his evangelical base in South Carolina and appeal to what his campaign called "Joe Six Pack" voters. Mr. Huckabee was the only candidate to pander to devotees of the Confederate flag, telling crowds that outsiders should leave the banner flag, now displayed in a corner of the grounds of the state capitol, alone: "If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole, that's what we'd do." Contrast that with the comments of Mr. Huckabee's fellow Southerner Fred Thompson: "For a great many Americans, [the flag] is a symbol of racism. I'm glad people have made a decision not to display it . . . in a state capitol."
Mr. Huckabee also tried pandering to immigration foes. As governor he had opposed measures targeting illegal aliens. Just before the primary, he signed a pledge that he would use law enforcement to send all 12 million illegal aliens home. He vehemently denied any inconsistency in his views. It didn't work. Among the one-fourth of voters for whom illegal immigration was a top issue, Mr. Huckabee defeated John McCain by only 33% to 24%--a sign that many voters recognize the issue's complexities and view it in context once they get inside the voting booth.
Once again, Mr. Huckabee failed to achieve significant support outside his evangelical base. Only 1 in 7 non-evangelicals voted for him, placing him behind not just Mr. McCain but Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney. He finished a close second overall only because he won more than 2 out of 5 evangelical voters, who made up 60% of South Carolina's primary turnout. And he pandered to his base, too, running TV ads proclaiming himself a "Christian leader." The vote among voters who considered themselves evangelicals and those who said TV ads were "very important" in determining how they voted was the same: Mr. Huckabee defeated John McCain 43% to 28% in both categories.
This repeats a pattern seen in other states. In Iowa, where evangelicals also were 60% of the electorate, Mr. Huckabee won but carried the votes of only 13% of non-evangelicals. In three states with more secular Republican electorates--New Hampshire, Michigan and Nevada--he has won between 4% and 8% of non-evangelicals, trailing even fringe candidate Ron Paul.
While Mr. Huckabee carried the evangelical vote, it was significant that Mr. McCain was able to do as well as he did. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Mr. McCain's top supporter in South Carolina, correctly predicted that Mr. McCain would "get his share" of religious conservatives. "People of faith, particularly," he told National Journal, are worried about the spread of this radical Islamic doctrine. And that resonates with evangelicals." Indeed, it did. Mr. McCain won those who said the war in Iraq was the most important issue, 16% of voters, by an resounding margin of 27 points over Mr. Huckabee.
Mr. McCain also made a conscious effort to court and explain himself to evangelicals, who were deeply suspicious of him after he branded some of their most prominent leaders "agents of intolerance" during the 2000 campaign. There may also be another reason for his greater success this year. After his campaign cratered last year and almost collapsed for lack of money, Mr. McCain never gave up and also adopted a more humble attitude in his campaign appearances. He gradually experienced a Lazarus-like rise from the political dead. Richard Quinn, the South Carolina political consultant who worked with Mr. McCain in both 2000 and 2008, thinks his political resurrection was a story line that appealed to religious conservatives this year: "After all, they believe in character and miracles."
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JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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© 2006, John H. Fund