hcuakebee20.jpgAs the founder of the blog Evangelicals for Mitt, Nancy French has spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince fellow born-again Christians to back a Mormon for president. A published author who spends most of her time raising her two kids in rural Tennessee, the 33-year-old French got close enough to the Romney campaign to be hired as a consultant last year and to have ghostwritten Ann Romney’s memoirs, a project that was put on indefinite hold last week when Mitt Romney withdrew from the presidential race.
In interview on Friday, French was understandably upset, especially because Romney’s exit was provoked largely by his defeat to Mike Huckabee in five evangelical-rich Southern states on Super Tuesday. A big reason for those defeats, French argues, is that Christian Right leaders never engaged in a conversation about whether or not evangelicals ought to let their faith prevent them from voting for a Mormon who shares their political positions.
“I would have loved for some Christian leaders to have said, ‘We have a Mormon running for president and we have a Baptist preacher… but who really reflects your values?’” French says. “‘Should you vote only for a Christian?’”
It’s impossible to know for sure, but that kind of conversation, especially were it led by Christian Right leaders supportive of Romney, probably would have made it harder for Huckabee to ride evangelical support to so many early victories. And Mitt Romney might have garnered enough evangelical support to still be challenging McCain today.
Instead, evangelicals are stuck with Huck, who’s got less than a third of John McCain’s delegates and who needs more delegates than are currently available to close the gap and take the nomination. So instead of Romney, who opposes federally funded embryonic stem cell research and supports a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, socially conservative evangelicals will now have to endure McCain—who supports federally-funded stem cell research and opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage—as the GOP nominee.
French grew so distraught about the failure of evangelicals leaders to discuss how to handle a Mormon candidate that she called Focus on the Family’s 800-number last year to request that the group’s founder, James Dobson, step up to the plate.
But Dobson refused. He did publicly hint that he liked both Romney and Huckabee—and said he loathed McCain in no uncertain terms—but he never openly discussed Romney’s Mormonism or how evangelicals might deal with it. Neither did a host of other high-profile evangelical figures. So it’s little surprise that evangelicals have wound up voting for one of their own—Huckabee. “We got used to having one of our own in the White House for eight years, when in reality, that’s not the way the Christian Right usually operates,” says French. “That’s why we haven’t had Alan Keyes in the White House.”
Or Pat Robertson or Gary Bauer, for that matter. As presidential candidates, preachers and religious leaders have always found it difficult to break out of their sectarian bases. If Romney winds up running in four years, French may again try to make that case, and to convince evangelical leaders to tackle the Mormon issue head-on. In the meantime, she’s thinking of changing the name of her blog to “Evangelicals in Exile.”


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