Election 2008

Allegiances Shift Among Iowa's Evangelical Voters

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Evangelical Iowans talk about the Republican presidential contest and the upcoming caucuses. They say no one contender seems to deliver on the entire package of faith and religious values.


The latest polls from Iowa show a big move by Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister. The Iowa caucuses are 24 days away and Huckabee appears to be pulling votes from former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Observers are tracking the opinions of social conservatives closely especially Evangelical Protestants. They've made a big difference in past elections but they've been slow to pick a champion from the current Republican field.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Des Moines.

DON GONYEA: There's been no shortage of talk of faith and religious values from the Republic presidential hopefuls this election season. Just last week, there was Mitt Romney's speech designed to allay concerns about his Mormon religion.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Governor, Massachusetts; Republican Presidential Candidate): I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.

GONYEA: The topic of religion comes up in TV interviews as well. Here's former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson on CNN.

Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Senator, Tennessee; Republican Presidential Candidate): I have no apologies to make about my religion or my relationship to Jesus Christ or God. I'm okay with the Lord and the Lord's okay with me as far as I can tell.

GONYEA: And it's been a topic in Republican debates. This is Mike Huckabee.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Republican Presidential Candidate): Sure, I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself.

GONYEA: Christian voters in Iowa say they're pleased to hear such talk is part of the regular dialogue of the campaign, but that hasn't made things any easier for them in picking a candidate. They say no one contender seems to deliver on the entire package. Romney, for example, says the right things now in abortion and same sex marriage, but those positions have changed since he was governor of Massachusetts. Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, supports abortion rights, just one of several issues where he differs with evangelicals.

Steve Scheffler is president of the nonprofit group called The Iowa Christian Alliance. He says there's a process going on in conservative Christian households all over Iowa these days.

Mr. STEVE SCHEFFLER (President, The Iowa Christian Alliance): Well, I think they're pretty their ledgers down on paper, and, you know, they're trying to figure out the pluses and the minuses. It's just a much tougher choice for people than usually, you know. You know, just trying to sort through all the rhetoric that they're hearing and all the overtures they're getting.

GONYEA: And Scheffler says it remains a very fluid situation. People are still changing their minds. One such voter is 71-year-old Loretta Anderson(ph), who lives in the Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines. She sat at her kitchen table with her husband Mack(ph).

Ms. LORETTA ANDERSON (Des Moines Resident): Well, I'm leaning towards Huckabee, and I changed from Mitt Romney.

GONYEA: The reason for that shift?

Ms. ANDERSON: I guess I didn't know about Huckabee right on. He was kind of an unknown. And then I began hearing about him, and I thought, wow.

GONYEA: But Anderson says she can't say for sure how she'll vote. Her husband, at 78 years old, is a bit firmer in his support for Huckabee. But he says he did watch Romney's speech about faith last week.

Mr. MACK ANDERSON (Des Moines Resident): I think he explained it, and why is it most people don't understand the Mormon religion. And the thing, I guess, that impressed me enough was that if he's really true on it, that he's not going to allow his religion to interfere with his presidential decisions.

GONYEA: But for other Christian voters, there are other doubts about Romney. 47-year-old Scott Bailey(ph) works as a bond underwriter in the insurance industry. He's the father of eight children, all homeschooled. He says he studies the candidates very closely. Bailey says he could vote for Mitt Romney in the general election, but not in the caucuses. He worries about Romney's changing positions. Bailey's first choice for president was Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who dropped out of the race in October. Bailey says that left him in a quandary.

Mr. SCOTT BAILEY (Bond Underwriter): You just scramble around, looking for a candidate that meets the same criteria that he met.

GONYEA: So where is Scott Bailey today?

Mr. BAILEY: Right now, I'm vacillating between Fred Thompson, Huckabee and McCain, not necessarily in that order.

GONYEA: So at least Fred Thompson can feel like this is a vote he can almost count on, but Bailey adds this.

Mr. BAILEY: Thompson has just been entirely unimpressive, you know. I mean, politically, I like who he is and what he's about, but for some reason, maybe the media has been hard on him.

GONYEA: Bailey says I can describe him as a Thompson leaner at this point. So polls may measure which candidate is claiming the most support at the moment, but none can show where all of these shifting allegiances will be at week's end, let alone where they all wind up on caucus night.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines.

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