With less than one month before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential contender former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is amassing the support of Iowa's Christian evangelicals.
Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, announced the names Tuesday in Iowa of more than 60 pastors endorsing his presidential bid, including Tim LaHaye, best-selling author of the Christian apocalyptic "Left Behind" series; LaHaye's wife, Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women for America; and Chuck Hurley, an influential Iowa conservative.
The announcement was the payoff of months of work by Huckabee staffer Matt Reisetter, 32, whose job it is to get Christian evangelicals in Iowa excited about Huckabee's bid for the GOP nomination.
"There's been a lot of evangelicals who really like the governor since the first time they were exposed to him," Reisetter said, " but there's a lot of pragmatists among the evangelical ranks — they want to support a winner."
Reisetter said now that Huckabee is surging in the polls — locked in a statistical dead heat with longtime Iowa front-runner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — evangelicals feel more comfortable backing him.
"They see he's a winner and he aligns with them on issues that matter the most," Reisetter said.
Huckabee addressed a group of 300 pastors in Iowa Monday attending a religious conference and received more than three standing ovations.
"The biggest ovation he got was when he said, 'God is not spelled G-O-P, and if the G-O-P ever leaves G-O-D then the G-O-P will lose m-e,'" said Jamie Johnson, owner of a Christian talk radio station in Iowa. Huckabee was the only presidential hopeful to speak at the event.
Huckabee's consistent anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage stance is a plus for many Christian evangelicals in Iowa. An estimated 40 percent of likely GOP caucus voters in Iowa consider themselves born-again Christians or Christian evangelical.
"He's pro-life, he's pro-God, pro-family and I think that's striking a chord with evangelical Christians here," said Kevin Lee, pastor of a 3,000-member congregation in Sioux City, Iowa.
Lee said he has narrowed his vote down to Huckabee and Romney. "The concern I have with Romney is his Mormon background," he said. "That's the only thing that really holds me back."
Romney will address his Mormon faith this week in a speech many are comparing to John F. Kennedy's iconic 1960 speech about his Catholic faith.
"Many evangelicals are very skeptical about Mormons. They don't understand it," said David Redlawsk, University of Iowa political scientist professor and director of University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll.
But other evangelicals say they're more concerned about Romney's previous support of abortion rights and gay marriage rights when he was the governor of Massachusetts.
"It's not so much his Mormon religion as his Johnny-come-lately position on so many of the issues that matter to the religious right," said Cary Covington, a Christian evangelical and professor of political science at the University of Iowa.
The former Arkansas governor has highlighted his faith and in recent weeks has run a television ad in Iowa that seeks to distinguish him from his rivals.