Amy Sullivan, Time’s brilliant new political editor, writes the definitive piece on Mike Huckabee and what his tremendous weekend performance at the Values Voter Summit means to him and the rest of the Republican field. Never count out a man from Hope, Arkansas.
Coming off a heady week of endorsements from heavyweights in the Christian Right world, including Bob Jones III and Don Wilton, former president of the South Carolina Southern Baptist Convention, Mitt Romney technically won the straw poll with 1,585 of the total 5,576 votes cast. But it was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who lit up the crowd with a fiery sermon as the last candidate to address the gathering. He took second place, just 30 votes behind Romney. …
…After his speech, Huckabee was asked whether he was concerned about the disconnect between his showings in the straw polls and the unwillingness of Christian Right leaders to support his campaign. He shook his head. “I’ll go with that great horde of people whose names nobody knows rather than the folks whose names everybody knows,” Huckabee said. “Their votes are still just one.”
Before the straw poll closed, Christian Right leaders milled about in the halls of the hotel: Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, who has made pointed positive statements about Thompson; Gary Bauer, who speaks highly of both Thompson and Romney; and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who recently dismissed Huckabee’s chances and criticized him for being too soft on foreign policy and immigration. But the summit attendees who leaped to their feet at the close of Huckabee’s address streamed past the heavyweights to cast their votes. If religious voters heed Mike Huckabee’s call again once the real voting begins, the battle between the purists and pragmatists in the Christian Right may well be settled in Iowa.
Of all the things happening in evangelical-political land these days that last point may be the truest of all. The self-appointed evangelical political leaders hold less and less sway with the grassroots. They have the power to organize conferences and still appear on television as talking heads but they are going the way of George Steinbrenner with his New York Yankees – fading into oblivion.