Beliefnet
Beliefnet News

By Adelle M. Banks
2008 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — With the race for the Republican presidential nomination now behind him, former candidate Mike Huckabee has many possibilities ahead: Potential vice president to John McCain? GOP adviser? Another run for the White House?
Any way, observers say, one thing seems clear: Huckabee is now a kinder, gentler fresh face of the evangelical movement, poised to follow the path laid out by Pat Robertson, who transformed his failed 1988 campaign into a powerful movement of the religious right.
“I think (Huckabee) reflects in many ways what I would call the new evangelical center,” said author Ron Sider, the president of Evangelicals for Social Action. “He simply is not the old religious right.”
The evangelical “old guard” — Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and even the late Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy — no longer represent the newer aspects of the movement, which seek to marry fresh issues (environmental preservation) to traditional causes (the sanctity of human life), observers say. In fact, Dobson didn’t endorse Huckabee until almost all the other Republican candidates were no longer running.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Huckabee has much greater potential to pull a much wider constituency and because of that, he has a lot more staying power, I think, on the national stage,” said Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston and the author of “Faith in the Halls of Power.”
Huckabee campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Fedewa said continuing to work with evangelicals would fit with Huckabee’s vision — and version — of American conservatism.
“He is certainly well-positioned to lead a conservative, or a Christian conservative, movement in this country,” she said.
Richard Cizik, who heads the Washington office of the National Association of Evangelicals, says Huckabee differentiates himself from earlier evangelical leaders, in part because of his “appealing” demeanor.
“Is he a culture warrior? No,” Cizik said. “But you can be for principles without being a culture warrior and obnoxious. He’s just not obnoxious.”
But the extent to which Huckabee sticks with the broadening concerns of evangelicals, such as fighting global hunger and opposing torture, will determine his staying power as a movement leader, Cizik added.
David Kuo, Washington editor for Beliefnet.com, has predicted that Huckabee, a onetime Southern Baptist pastor and former governor of Arkansas, could emerge as a Republican kingmaker.
“At the end of the day, Mike Huckabee has followed Pat Robertson’s
1988 model better than Pat Robertson did,” Kuo said.
Both candidates, he noted, had strong showings in an Iowa GOP primary and ended up with lists of donors that translated into new evangelical voters for the Republican Party.
“He was a lot more successful across the country, he went a lot longer into the race and he defines himself in a completely different way,” Kuo said. “He has the capacity to reach the youth and right now … younger evangelicals are the ones who are more inclined to go to the Democratic Party.”
Pastor Dwight McKissic of Arlington, Texas, said Huckabee’s appeal is not limited to white evangelicals. On his last Sunday on the campaign trail, Huckabee visited McKissic’s predominantly black Baptist church, and said Huckabee drew several rounds of applause as he preached a sermon on being “a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
“Mike Huckabee has great people skills,” said McKissic, who attended college with Huckabee and marveled at his ability to get 48 percent of the black vote as a candidate for governor in Arkansas. “He’s always worked across various kinds of lines to accomplish goals.”
But Family Research Council President Tony Perkins doesn’t think it will be as easy for Huckabee to gain a post-campaign platform as it was for Robertson.
“Pat Robertson had a TV network around which he could base his operation,” said Perkins, co-author of the new book, “Personal Faith, Public Policy.”
“You’ve got to have some infrastructure. Just a list of names is not going to be enough.”
Perkins thinks Huckabee could help the Republican Party refocus its attention on issues important to social conservatives, but views the former candidate as just one leader of the evangelical movement, not the only one.
“I would clearly see him as an evangelical leader,” said Perkins.
“Is he the next Jerry Falwell? I don’t think there is a next Jerry Falwell. We’re in a different time.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus