Mike Huckabee Still Tops with Social Conservatives

By Dschabner

Sep 19, 2009 5:47pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis reports: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee beat his nearest rivals by more than a two-to-one margin in a 2012 presidential straw poll of 597 socially conservative activists who attended this weekend’s Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. “He is well oiled,” said Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council. “I don’t think he missed a beat from when he left off in the election.” Huckabee, a silver-tongued former Baptist minister who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and is now a talk-show host on the Fox News Channel, garnered 28 percent, which translated into 170 votes. There was a four-way tie for second place among former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. Romney got 12.40 percent (74 votes), Pawlenty got 12.23 percent (73 votes), Palin got 12.06 percent (72 votes), and Pence got 11.89 percent (71 votes). The Values Voters straw poll is a glimpse into the support that potential Republican presidential candidates have among the social conservatives who paid $99 to attend the summit. Huckabee’s Friday morning speech, which was laced with his trademark humor, honed in on the cultural issues that are of greatest concern for the social conservatives who attended the conference. “There are so many people who have told us as conservatives that we should move to the center on the sanctity of marriage or the sanctity of life,” Huckabee said. “Just move to the center. “I’m not sure the center makes a whole lot of sense when it’s coming from people who certainly don’t have our interest, or our country’s interest, at heart,” he added. Although Huckabee ran away with the straw poll, there are signs that Democrats do not take his potential candidacy as seriously as they do the potential bids of two of the second-place finishers. Following the Friday and Saturday speeches, the Democratic National Committee issued statements harshly criticizing only two of the Republicans: Pawlenty and Romney. There was no such instant response for Huckabee. While Huckabee ran away with the straw poll, Pawlenty can be proud that he matched the performance of the better-known Romney. Pawlenty, an evangelical Christian, connected with the audience during Friday’s speech by quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14, the same passage of the Bible that former President Ronald Reagan had open when he took the presidential oath. Without prompting, the audience joined Pawlenty in reciting the verse: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” During Saturday’s press conference announcing the straw poll results, Perkins described Pawlenty as a Republican with potential because he is a conservative who has managed to win in a state that has traditionally voted Democratic. “He is a conservative with a core set of beliefs,” said Perkins. “But he has won in a moderate-to-liberal state,” he added, referring to Minnesota, a state with a long progressive tradition. In total, there were nine Republicans on the straw poll ballot. Rounding out the field, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 6.7 percent (40 votes), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal received received 4.7 percent (28 votes), former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum received 2.5 percent (15 votes), and Texas Rep. Ron Paul received 2.2 percent (13 votes). Five percent of straw poll participants were undecided (31 votes) and 2 percent voted for write-in candidates (10 votes). Candidates did not ask the Family Research Council to place their names on the ballot. Candidates did, however, have the opportunity to remove their names from the ballot. The straw poll ballot originally included Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but FRC agreed to remove him from the ballot after the Texas governor told Perkins that he was focused on his 2010 campaign for re-election. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a fellow Republican, is challenging Perry in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary. Four of the nine candidates spoke to the conference in open session: Huckabee, Romney, Pawlenty, and Pence. One of the nine Republican candidates — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — spoke to the conference in a closed press session. Four other Republicans appeared on the ballot but did not speak to the conference: Palin, Gingrich, Paul, and Jindal. In addition to the 2012 candidate preference question, the straw poll also tested issue preferences. By far, the most important issue was abortion, an issue which was cited by 41 percent (243 voters). The second most important issue was protection of religious liberty which garnered 18 percent, and same-sex “marriage” which garnered 7 percent. The Values Voters Summit took place at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

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