Cover Story

Elephant in the room

"Elephant in the room" Continued...

Issue: "Elephant in the room," Nov. 3, 2007

Prominent Christian leaders have been slow to embrace Huckabee, and Bauer told WORLD that his primary concern is the candidate's electability in the upcoming primaries.

In a private meeting with supporters after his speech, Huckabee expressed frustration over Christian leaders' reticence to back him: "It's a little bit like a soldier who goes to war and his own army won't give him the supplies he needs to win."

But evangelicals at the conference handed Huckabee a huge win over the weekend: In a straw poll conducted by the FRC, Huckabee garnered 51 percent of those who voted on-site, swamping every other candidate. Romney trailed in second place with 10 percent of the on-site vote. (The FRC allowed online voting as well, and Romney edged Huckabee by 30 votes in the overall tally.)

Other major candidates struggled to gain traction with evangelicals at the conference: Fred Thompson delivered a lackluster speech that failed to inspire excitement in the audience. He placed third in the on-site straw poll, but enthusiasm for the candidate was minimal. "He just doesn't seem to have the fire in his belly," said Richard Perkins, father of the FRC president.

Still, Thompson remains strong in national polls, and some Christian leaders haven't ruled him out. But the crowd's reception was one more sign that Thompson will need to generate more energy to stay in the race.

Congressman Ron Paul placed third in the overall straw poll, evidence that his online presence is still strong: While he garnered 865 votes in the overall tally, he only gained 25 votes on-site at the conference. That was one less vote than Sam Brownback, who dropped out of the presidential race on the first day of the conference.

Paul hovers at 3 percent in the national polls, but he enjoys significant fundraising success: During the last quarter, he had more cash on hand than John McCain and raised more than $5 million in the third quarter.

McCain struggled to gain evangelical support over the weekend, coming in seventh in the on-site straw poll. He won applause for a patriotic speech that included a moving account of his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, but could not translate admiration into significant votes among evangelicals.

And while some conference attendees expressed keen interest in Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo (Hunter garnered more votes than McCain in the on-site poll), many seemed to think the traction they've gained is too small to remain in the race.

Eric Lupardus, a 20-year-old Huckabee supporter from Illinois, hopes that Huckabee's win in the FRC on-site straw poll will prompt more voters to coalesce behind the former governor, especially Christian leaders: "What they're looking for is right there in front of them."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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