Can Evangelicals Maintain Huckabee's Roll?

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee hopes for a repeat of Iowa, where evangelicals carried him to victory. But will they do the same in New Hampshire? Host Liane Hanson speaks with Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Republicans hammered each other last night in their final debate before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. Polls show John McCain leading the pack, ahead of rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

In a moment, Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, joins us in the studio.

But first, here are some New Hampshire voices on what they expect from their next president.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Unidentified Woman #1: Honesty. I just want to know the facts, you know, whether it's good or bad - just tell the truth.

Unidentified Man: I'm looking for integrity, morals, ethics - all of the positive characteristics that it takes to be president of the United States.

Unidentified Woman #2: I'd like to know what a candidate's opinion is on subjects like abortion. I like to know, you know, what they would - how they would carry that out - their opinions.

HANSEN: Honesty, morals, abortion - all are especially important issues to evangelical voters. Evangelicals in Iowa carried former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to victory, but will they do the same in New Hampshire? Richard Cizik is here to try to answer that question and more.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. RICHARD CIZIK (Vice President, Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals): Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: Will Mike Huckabee be as appealing to the New Hampshire evangelical crowd as he was in Iowa?

Mr. CIZIK: Maybe not as much. Let's face it. Iowa is populous territory and Mike Huckabee is a populist. He's not a moralist. He's certainly not a cultural warrior, and neither are Iowans, so he did very well there. But now, he goes to the Granite State. The question is will the themes that he kicked back and forth out there in the prairie pass for good Republican politics there in the Granite State. Live free or die is the theme there.

And therein, you have limited-government, market-oriented, capitalism-defending conservatives who, well, they don't always like what populist want. Populist want more government influence, more (unintelligible) power to help people. And so the kinds of themes he hit - well, for example, put it this way. Out in Iowa, Mr. Huckabee said, every time Americans strive to rise, well, they're pushed down every time by their own government. That's - well, that's populism. It might not pass for good politics.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. Talk about the evangelical, though - the vote. Do you think - are there splits among those who've considered themselves evangelical? Or do they largely support one candidate?

Mr. CIZIK: Well, you saw that evangelicals go decisively in Iowa for Huckabee.

HANSEN: The populist…

Mr. CIZIK: They weren't going to vote for Romney. Romney made a pitch, but he didn't quite sell it. He is kind of a manager like the present president. And people are looking for inspiration. A lot of evangelicals listened to that speech by Obama and said, wow, that man is an orator. And evangelicals admire oratory. After all, we are public communicators. And that's what, frankly, most of the nation wants too. So Huckabee gained because he is that, a communicator - a former pastor. He's not an oppressive moralist, however. And so he's able to marriage - marry the two, you see, his economic populism with his concern for faith, morals and candor - all the rest.

HANSEN: You mentioned that Mitt Romney didn't make much of headway among evangelicals. What about Arizona Senator John McCain?

Mr. CIZIK: McCain is an interesting figure. He may well inherit the mantle if Romney falls in New Hampshire. Of the mainstream Republicans - even the Wall Street Republicans - even though he is - well, he's not the a traditionalist either. And so some of those who dislike Huckabee here in this town - that's Washington - also dislike McCain. McCain is talking, well, about the environment. He talks about limiting special interests. Some of these are not traditional themes of Republicans. And so who is going to inherit the mantle? I think it's a split in the party.

HANSEN: And just briefly, South Carolina - any projection there?

Mr. CIZIK: I would think that Huckabee would do better in South Carolina than he would in New Hampshire. And so this is going to continue. It's going to be a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, note that up.

HANSEN: Richard Cizik is the vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. And he joined us in the studio. Thank you so much for coming in.

Mr. CIZIK: Thank you, Liane.

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