Will Huckabee's campaign encourage evangelicals to vote for a Democrat?
The former Arkansas governor's positions on "liberal" social issues may herald a political realignment of evangelicals.
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Those who accuse Huckabee of falling prey to "liberal values" betray an ignorance of evangelical history. By transcending the false division between "moral values" and "social justice," Huckabee actually represents a return to a more broad-based and less ideological brand of evangelical politics, one that pframredates the modern split between liberals and fundamentalists that became so pronounced during the later 20th century.Skip to next paragraph
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Perhaps the reason that Huckabee has struck fear in the hearts of so many Republicans and old-guard fundamentalists is less ideological than pragmatic. The evangelical groundswell that plucked Huckabee from obscurity during the Iowa caucuses demonstrated the viability of a Republican candidate who represents Evangelicals but who also believes that the state has a positive and necessary role to play in the lives of citizens, especially those whom Jesus called "the least of these."
A reenergized evangelical base sounds like good news for the GOP, especially given recent talk of creeping demoralization and disillusionment in the party.
In fact, the opposite is true.
Even assuming he loses the nomination, Huckabee's appeal demonstrates what journalists and commentators have been saying for the past year: the views in the pews are changing. Republicans can no longer take Evangelicals for granted simply by beating up the old piñatas of abortion and gay marriage. While a full-scale exodus from the GOP is unlikely, more "Bible-believing" Christians are likely to consider voting for a Democratic candidate this November than in any election since Evangelicals helped to put Jimmy Carter in the White House.
Unfortunately, we don't know how many Evangelicals are voting Democratic because current exit polling doesn't ask Democrats whether they're evangelical. However, a recent Beliefnet poll found that born-again believers now rank traditionally Democratic causes ahead of Republican ones.
Almost 60 percent said that fighting poverty, protecting the environment, and expanding public healthcare deserved more attention than abortion and gay rights. Twenty three percent said their views had become less positive about Republicans, twice the number who said they'd soured on Democrats. According to some polls, the votes of 40 percent or more of white evangelical voters are up for grabs in 2008.
Democratic contender Barack Obama has already narrowed the "God gap" with Republicans by making personal faith a driving force in his campaign. By helping to close another gap in American political discourse – one that long separated social-justice issues and "moral values" – Huckabee may inadvertently be ushering many "new Evangelicals" out of his party.