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Mike Huckabee’s cat and mouse game

As the cult of Mike Huckabee continues to grow, both nationally and across the state of Iowa, his cat and mouse game on religion is stepping up. Case in point, this AP article, “Huckabee Bristles at Creationism Query.”

Huckabee has sought time and again to portray himself as a Christian candidate. His advertisemen t in Iowa features big, blocky letters that pan “Christian Candidate” across the screen. He’s received the endorsement from Tim LaHaye, one of the co-authors of the “Left Behind” series (compulsory evangelical lit). His campaign Web site uses the alliterate trifecta of “Faith. Family. Freedom.” And he just recently received the endorsement of Chuck Hurley, an influential conservative activist in Iowa who was backing former Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, before Brownback dropped out of the race.

Yet as The Incredible Huck is continually asked about his faith, he’s playfully getting irritated. Case in point in the news article above; Huckabee is asked whether he thinks creationism should be taught in public schools, and he responds “Why the fascination with my beliefs?”

At the risk of stating the obvious, Mr. Huckabee, the fascination with your beliefs is not only your own doing, but it’s the reason you’re up in Iowa. The more you’re identified as a Christian candidate, the more Mitt Romney looks like he believes that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri. (Oh wait. He does.)

This is why Huckabee can play the cat and mouse game. He can say, “Look, stop focusing on my beliefs,” while still getting the message out there that what he believes is on target with the vast majority of GOP caucus-goers in Iowa. It’s like the reverse of a Catch-22. Whether he makes religion his focal point, or whether he chafes at religion being the focal point, Huckabee benefits.

Which begs the question: If Mitt Romney has millions and millions of dollars to pay political consultants, why the hell did none of them see this coming?

This caucus is Mike Huckabee’s to lose. And as Jet Netwal pointed out earlier on this site, that means we’re all in trouble.


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Romney gives the faith speech

Many of Mitt Romney’s advisers have been on him for months now to address his religion, but it likely took a new poll out by the Des Moines Register showing him five points behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, that has Romney ready to give his John F. Kennedy speech on religion. Ala Kennedy and his Catholicism in 1960, Romney is preparing to talk about his faith - Mormonism - for the first time this Election season.

Despite the endorsements of many prominent Christian conservative s, including Bob Jones, Paul Weyrich, and David Keene, Romney is still perceived as having problems resonating in socially conservative circles, especially among evangelicals . This could be one of the reasons, if not the reason, his support is slipping in places like Iowa, where the Republican caucus is dominated by social conservative s. Seems like most of these folks are jumping ship to Mike Huckabee, 30 days before the caucus. Being the nerd that I am, I watched a town hall on C-SPAN tonight with Romney, and sure enough, three of the questions from caucus-goers referenced Mike Huckabee.

And that’s the story line here. While there’s some historical relevance to Romney, one of the first Mormons to be competitive in a Presidential race, giving a speech about his faith, the talk smacks of inauthentici ty. Romney has been running for President for more than a year now, and he’s resisted talking about his faith at all costs. All of a sudden he finds himself slipping in the polls to Huckabee, and he decides to give a national talk on “Faith in America.”

Romney’s campaign is saying that the address will be a chance for Mitt to “share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.” But the underlying reason is that Romney’s being schooled by Huckabee in Iowa, and needs to respond.


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Vote in the common good

One of my favorite political buzzwords from the past few years has become “the common good,” a phrase I’ve seen most used as an umbrella term for the breadth of issues that should inform a person’s conscience when they vote. It’s a great retort to the groups, religions and individuals out there who suggest that only single issues should matter when it comes to casting a socially just vote.

As in 2004, we’ll likely see a push by very misguided Catholic groups to whittle the Catholic vote down to four issues: abortion, gay marriage and gay adoption, stem cell research, and euthanasia. These Catholic groups take these four issues and distort them for the sheer purpose of electing Republicans, while completely ignoring the breadth and depth of Catholic Social Teaching – the social principles that form the foundation of the Catholic faith.

Forty days out of the Iowa caucuses, a group of Catholic organization s have released a “Common Good Voting Pledge,” to draw attention to the wide range of social issues that should inform a Catholic’s conscience as they prepare to vote. The groups – including Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Pax Christi USA, NETWORK, Catholics United, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – have one basic, but profound, message: Building a culture of the common good requires us to balance our own self-interes t with a commitment to greater common interest as well.

Two specific issues are highlighted: a commitment to fight poverty, and a commitment to end the war. On fighting poverty, the groups say: 37 million Americans live below the poverty line in the world’s richest country. Half the world nearly three billion people live on less than two dollars a day. These are moral scandals that violate human life and dignity. Poverty is linked to many affronts to human life, including abortion and war. We are called to put our faith into action and care for the poor and most vulnerable.

On ending the war: The Iraq war has lasted more than four years and the number of casualties now exceeds 3800 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. War disproportio nately affects the poor in society and drains needed resources from vital social programs. Pope John Paul II insisted that “war is always a defeat for humanity.” Pope Benedict XVI believes that it is “right to resist war and its threats of destruction. ” The U.S. bishops have called for a “responsible withdrawal” of troops.

You can sign the pledge by clicking here, or download copies of the pledge for distribution by clicking here.

The more “the common good” frames the discussion of religious voters in the 2008 election, hopefully the less polarized we’ll be as a nation. As Jane Addams once said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

Now if only that statement were on the daily talking points given each morning to candidates running for President.


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Beyond the Starbucks drinking elite

That’s a line from the latest article on Sen. Barack Obama, as he makes a much heralded media push to win over the hearts and minds of blue collar workers and red state voters. Ironically, I read the article tonight at a Starbucks, cashing in a gift card someone gave me.

That Obama (who’s secret service code name – Renegade – is decidedly one of the coolest secret service names out there) needs to move beyond the elite crowd is pretty much common knowledge. To do this, he’ll give a speech tomorrow in Iowa entitled “Reclaimin g the American Dream,” which as politico.com reports, will seek to expand Obama’s base beyond the “NPR-liste ning, Starbucks-dr inking, Prius-drivin g, Times-readin g” stereotype that has become a shorthand for his appeal to the party’s elite.

Obama’s “Reclaimin g the American Dream,” speech comes on the heels of an article in Time Magazine that talks about Obama’s red state appeal. Per Time:

Political organizing for Democrats in red states like Nebraska can often feel a bit like leading AA meetings. But that hasn’t deterred more than 300 Nebraskans from forming a dozen groups for Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and they aren’t the only ones. On Monday, the Obama campaign announced that over 300 Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans had decided to cross party lines to support Obama. At Obama events in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia and Georgia, a good 20% of audiences routinely raise their hands when emcees ask for Republicans in the crowd. A “Republicans for Obama” website has 11 state chapters with 146 members. An August University of Iowa even found Obama running third in the state among Republican candidates, behind Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani but ahead of both Fred Thompson and John McCain. And a national Gallup poll this month also found that nearly as many Republicans like Obama — 39% — than the 43% that dislike him, compared with the 78% of Republicans who held an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton.

Then there’s the Obama machine in South Carolina, which is seeking to highlight the candidate’ s strong faith background, and his commitment to civil rights. Sure, Obama flubbed it when he brought on an anti-gay pastor to lead a major campaign concert in the Palmetto State (notice the backtracking and media floundering that ensued), but the results of his “40 Days of Faith and Family” tour across the state will certainly surpass any fallout from that rookie mistake. Need proof? Obama appeared in the town of Manning, SC last week for a campaign stop. A whopping 25% of the town showed up! (A poll released last week showed him ten points behind Hillary Clinton in the state. The next one won’t.)

What does all of this mean? Probably a number of different things, but my take is that instead of getting rough in response to Hillary Clinton’s campaign (like many activists and pundits are imploring him to do), Obama’s going to do something that’s probably much smarter – he’s going to aggressively make the case that he’s more electable than Clinton is, in places as varied as Iowa, South Carolina, and as Time magazine suggests, Nebraska. Might that argument have enough sway to pull him through Iowa and New Hampshire? It’s hard to say. But it’s a valiant effort at moving his campaign to the next level (something that, sadly, Bill Bradley couldn’t do in 2000).

Stay tuned. The Iowa caucuses are less than two months away (January 3). (Need even more proof that we’re getting nearer to the caucuses? It snowed nearly 3 inches in my hometown last night. Winter and Iowa are almost here!)


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