Evangelicals Key to South Carolina GOP Primary In South Carolina, evangelicals will make up roughly half of the electorate in the Republican presidential primary Saturday. They are credited with helping Mike Huckabee win in Iowa.
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Evangelicals Key to South Carolina GOP Primary

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Evangelicals Key to South Carolina GOP Primary

Evangelicals Key to South Carolina GOP Primary

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This weekend, two significant voter groups get a chance to influence the presidential race. Latinos are a big part of the electorate in Nevada, and we'll have more on that state's caucuses in a moment.

We begin with evangelical voters. They are expected to be a big portion of the electorate in tomorrow's Republican primary in South Carolina. And on the eve of the primary, many remain undecided.

NPR's Audie Cornish reports from Columbia, South Carolina.

AUDIE CORNISH: With just days to go before the primary, the Palmetto Family Council, an evangelical policy group, mailed out over 100,000 DVDs showcasing the stump speeches of the Republican presidential candidates. The disc was titled "Still Undecided."

(Soundbite of DVD)

Unidentified Man: Throughout the pages of history, you'll find the ongoing story of America, defending our beliefs and our values around the globe.

CORNISH: Orin Smith is director of the group. He says even his own board of directors are split among four different candidates.

Mr. ORIN SMITH (Palmetto Family Council): I think South Carolinians traditionally have not only supported candidates that were consistent with their values, but they wanted to support someone who had a good chance of winning.

CORNISH: Smith's DVDs will join the hundreds of thousands of mailers and flyers that have already jammed mailboxes here, not to mention the constant barrage of campaign phone calls. For undecided voters like Larry Johnson of Cayce, South Carolina, faith is the paramount issue.

Mr. LARRY JOHNSON: Being a Christian, I really believe that we as a nation need to get more grounded in real Christian values. There's a lot of talk with all candidates on the local, state and national level, but the depth doesn't seem to be there...

CORNISH: But since there appears to be so many voters who have yet to make up their minds, it's not only the word of God that is being spread, it's the word of negative campaign tactics.

Mr. BILL FULTZ(ph): There was that sleazy computerized telephone survey that his campaign has, that they did a number on me today.

CORNISH: Bill Fultz says he was turned off by so-called push polling that appeared to him to support Mike Huckabee. Huckabee's campaign has disavowed any connection to the calls.

Mr. FULTZ: Oh, they were trashing all the other candidates, talking about how rich Romney is, and they used the epithet millionaire to describe John McCain.

CORNISH: Besides, Fultz says, Huckabee shouldn't need the help. Here at the Northside Baptist Church in Columbia, where he's attending a midweek service, Fultz says lots of people are considering the former Arkansas governor.

Ms. ANGIE WETHERSBY(ph): His firm foundation in his beliefs and - that he's a Christian and that he is very pro-family and just puts family first, and I just really feel like that's a very important issue.

Mr. DONALD CLARK(ph): What impresses me most is that he doesn't waffle. He hasn't waffled. There's a straight stance from Huckabee. He has a very firm set of beliefs, and that's what he sticks to.

CORNISH: Huckabee's victory in Iowa has made voters like Angie Wethersby and Donald Clark sit up and take notice. Their vote, they say, is guided by their faith. But some voters, such as Wayne Morris(ph) and Annette Folkenberry(ph), say their faith keeps them from voting for Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon.

Mr. WAYNE MORRIS: There are so many differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity that for me that is a huge issue.

Ms. ANNETTE FOLKENBERRY: I really look at Mormons as more of a cult, and I know they're trying to explain that in the best way they can, but really when it comes down to it, you know, I only have one God, and Jesus Christ, and the way to my guide is through Jesus Christ the Lord savior.

CORNISH: Other evangelicals I've spoken to say they intend to vote their head and not their heart. And many of them are drawn to Senator John McCain. But whether it's their head or their heart that leads them to a candidate, Reverend Rocky Purvis, pastor of Northside Baptist Church, offers this advice to his flock.

Reverend ROCKY PURVIS (Northside Baptist Church): The Bible says that righteousness exalts the nation. And we as believers should be seeking to elect people that we are convinced are going to lead our country to righteousness to honor God.

CORNISH: Audie Cornish, NPR News, Columbia, South Carolina.

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