Not all Minnesota evangelicals back Huckabeeby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
Iowa polls show evangelical Christian voters put former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in first place in the caucuses. But will Huckabee be able to mobilize his base in other states? Not all Minnesota evangelicals are sold on Huckabee, but a number of them say they like what they see.
St. Paul, Minn. — Paul Otte, who plays the organ and leads the choir Peace Lutheran Church in Hutchinson, said he hadn't even heard of Mike Huckabee before last summer.
But then he saw an Internet clip from the June 5 Republican debate in New Hampshire. Huckabee was asked to explain whether he believed the story of God creating the earth, as related in the book of Genesis, was literally true.
"I believe there's a God who was active in the creation process," Huckabee said. "Now, how did he do it and when did he do it and how long did it take, I don't honestly know. And I don't think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president. But I'll you what I can tell the country: If they want a president who doesn't believe in God, there's probably plenty of choices. But if I'm selected as president of this country, they'll have one who believes in those words."
Otte was impressed.
"His response I thought was really positive," he said. "That was the first time I sort of pricked my ear and was intrigued by what he had to say."
Otte said he continues to like the things he hears from Huckabee, especially his consistent opposition to abortion. But Otte's support probably won't do much for Huckabee when Minnesotans hold their precinct caucuses on Feb. 5.
Otte calls himself an independent, who leans left on issues like gun control and taxes, and he doesn't see himself voting in either party's precinct caucus.
Fran Egeland, who lives in north-central Minnesota's Ideal Township, is thinking about caucusing for the first time this year. And if she does, she's definitely backing Huckabee. She said he's the best candidate to fix the serious problems she sees facing the U.S.
"We're in deep trouble as a nation morally, spiritually, financially, even politically," she said. "People are crying for decent leadership -- for people who have backbone and a spine, who what they mean and mean what they say and then do it."
Egeland said it's important to her that the next president shares her strong Christian faith.
"Those types of things will affect your worldview, how you relate to people, your honesty as a politician," she said. "It's going to be the central thing about your person."
And that's one reason Egeland really isn't comfortable with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who came in second in last night's Iowa caucuses and got significantly less support than Huckabee from evangelical voters.
"I'm not saying he couldn't operate well, but the Mormonism is a concern a little bit to me, yes, if I'm honest" she said.
But not all evangelical Christians have been so inspired by Huckabee. Rebecka VanderWerf, an attorney who lives in Maple Grove and attends the Evangelical Free Church there, admits that she hasn't been following the campaign all that closely. She's not thrilled with any of her choices, yet either. While Paul Otte and Fran Egeland praised Huckabee's communication skills, VanderWerf has not been impressed.
"I guess he just seems to me to be awfully impressed with himself," she said. "He doesn't come across to me as someone who has the right personality to lead a nation. I mean, he may do very well at the state level, but not, personally I don't believe at the national level."
One longtime political observer says it's no surprise there's disagreement.
"I think trying to peg evangelical Christians is like trying to peg African-Americans. Everybody's different and they think for themselves," said former Minnesota Republican Gov. Al Quie.
Quie said he's been hearing some positive things about Mike Huckabee from his fellow evangelicals. He's watched politicians try to appeal to the evangelical movement for more than two decades.
"Until Reagan came they were pretty much in quietude, and then they became engaged in the political arena, and everybody's been trying to figure them out since," he said.
Quie said he hasn't officially signed up with any of the Republican candidates, but he said Huckabee is the one he likes the best right now.
- All Things Considered, 01/04/2008, 5:50 p.m.