Associated Press – December 19, 2007
DES MOINES, Iowa – Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher, is depending on more than a leap of faith to win the Iowa caucuses.
Leading in polls, Huckabee is determined to make up for his skimpy organization in the state by enlisting national evangelical Christian supporters to rev up Iowa pastors and coax voters to the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Word of mouth in churches and among Christian groups can be a powerful force in Iowa politics. Christian believers make up the core of Huckabee’s support in the state, said Rick Scarborough, a well-known Texas preacher who has endorsed the former Arkansas governor, though he adds that “it’s not his only constituency.”
Scarborough heads Vision America, one of several groups trying to help Huckabee. The groups – some overtly religious, some not – are using a variety of tactics, all independent of Huckabee’s campaign:
– Automated phone calls to recruit volunteers.
– Voter registration drives.
– Informal e-mails and chats in church foyers and pews.
For any churchgoers who have missed this outreach, Huckabee is making a new appeal with a TV ad telling people that what truly matters this holiday season is not politics but the birth of Christ. “And on behalf of all of us, God bless and Merry Christmas,” Huckabee says.
Some of the outreach is haphazard – Scarborough tried to put together a barnstorming tour earlier this month to register thousands of Christian voters in Iowa, but the tour fell through because of weather and trouble getting a bus. He said another group, Redeem the Vote, still plans the tour.
Other efforts appear better-organized, though not directly connected to Huckabee. A group called “Common Sense Issues” and “Trust Huckabee” blanketed Iowa with phone calls this month. Similar calls were made in New Hampshire, too.
“If you would like to help win the state for Governor Huckabee, the single most important thing you can do is volunteer to become a `Trust Huckabee’ precinct captain,” a caller says, according to a recording provided to The Associated Press.
“After you sign on, you will immediately receive a precinct captain plan by e-mail,” the caller says. “What we will do now is send to you the names of supporters in your precinct.”
Huckabee has said he knows nothing about the calls and, in fact, wishes they would stop. GOP rival Mitt Romney has asked state authorities to investigate the calls.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor – and former Republican leader in Iowa polls – has spent millions of dollars assembling a massive precinct-by-precinct operation to turn out supporters on caucus night.
Huckabee, who has a tiny campaign and a shoestring budget, has a network of supporters independent of his campaign who are spreading the word through their churches.
He roused pastors at a closed-door meeting earlier this month in Des Moines with several high-profile supporters, including California pastor Tim LaHaye, author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” book series, LaHaye’s wife Beverly, founder of the conservative Christian group Concerned Women of America. Later at his Iowa headquarters, Huckabee held a news conference to announce the endorsements by the LaHayes and dozens of members of his new pastors coalition.
Billed as a policy briefing under the banner of the Iowa Renewal Project, the Iowa meeting was similar to others featuring Huckabee in the early-voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. Another is set for next month in Florida, which holds a primary on Jan. 29.
John Shaull, who belongs to Huckabee’s pastors coalition, said he is sending out e-mails and distributing voter guides from the Iowa Christian Alliance at his church.
“I don’t wear my Huckabee sticker on my coat at church; we’re just kind of under the radar,” said Shaull, who is director of missions for the Baptist Convention of Iowa. “I don’t like the terminology, because I know it’s a negative connotation, but it’s just kind of the pyramid mentality – somebody here shares 10 references with somebody here, who then shares 10 references.”
That kind of network surprised people in 1988, when televangelist Pat Robertson managed a strong second-place finish behind Bob Dole and ahead of George H.W. Bush, though Bush went on to win the White House.
The power of Robertson’s evangelical Christian network was little-known at the time, although today, it comprises an important segment of Iowa GOP caucus goers. Increasingly, those voters say they will support Huckabee next month.
“It’s going to be an informal network – there are not going to be large phone banks, and it is going to be a lot of word of mouth, a lot of discussion at church, a lot of ongoing interactions,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Iowa. “That just gives him the sort of ground game that he would otherwise lack.”
The lack of organization among Huckabee supporters has resulted in some missteps. For example, his backers scheduled a meeting for last Saturday at the Solid Rock Church in Coralville, Iowa, to make phone calls supporting Huckabee. People were encouraged to bring their cell phones and their own lists of contacts.
That could violate Internal Revenue Service rules; any church or charity group that offers its facilities to one candidate must give the same access to any other candidate who wants it.
After an Associated Press reporter asked about the apparent violation, a Huckabee field director, Christian Williams, said the meeting had been moved to a recreational center a couple of miles away.
AP Religion Writer Eric Gorski and AP Writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed