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Last Friday, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas ended his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He is the third member of the illustrious group of ex-GOP presidential hopefuls, joining former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. Let’s just say that Brownback’s decision didn’t exactly send shock waves through the political world.

However, Brownback’s dropout is the first significant one in the Republican field. About a year ago, when the presidential race was first getting underway, the three Republican favorites were Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Needless to say, the Christian right wasn’t enamored with any of them. However, they did have a strong affinity for two lesser-known candidates: Brownback and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who are both firmly pro-life and anti-gay marriage. The winner who emerged was supposed to be the religious right’s answer to the three Republican frontrunners. It soon became clear that Huckabee won the battle between the two of them. Huckabee was witty and eloquent during the presidential debates, while Brownback sounded stiff and uninspiring. Huckabee then finished 2nd in the Iowa straw poll, beating out Brownback, who finished 3rd. While Brownback barely registers on national polls with 1-2%, Huckabee has made a move recently and now measures in at 7-9% on Rasmussen Reports daily tracking polls. And a recent Rasmusssen Reports poll in Iowa found Huckabee with 18% in a virtual tie for 2nd, while Brownback lagged toward the back of the field with a measly 3%.

Now that Brownback is done, the religious right is faced with a stark choice: back Huckabee or support one of the frontrunners. Well, pro-choice Giuliani is completely out of the question, as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council threatened that he and other evangelical leaders will back a pro-life third party candidate if Giuliani wins the nomination. McCain is still unpopular for calling Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance”, even though McCain and Falwell have made up. Romney has gotten some support from evangelical leaders, but the extent of that support is probably limited by his Mormon religion and his liberal positions on social issues prior to his presidential campaign. Thompson may have the most conservative record on social issues, but he has not made his faith a central issue in his campaign, unlike Huckabee. There is evidence that the religious right is beginning to take a serious look at Huckabee’s candidacy. In Sunday’s Family Research Council Values Voters straw poll, Huckabee finished with 27.2%, second only to Romney’s 27.6%. Among the voters who attended the event and heard the candidates speak, Huckabee received an astonishing 51%, while Romney placed second with 10%.

Many of Brownback’s staffers can be expected to flock to the Huckabee’s campaign, as the two are ideologically in step. With Brownback’s departure, Mike Huckabee is the only one candidate left who the religious right truly believes in, and thus has to be considered a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

As for Brownback, he is expected to run for Governor of Kansas in 2010 when his U.S. Senate term expires. He is only 51 years old, so he can continue to dream of reaching the White House someday.

7 comments:

Laura Umbrecht said...

I guess the question now is, how powerful a force will the religious right be in the '08 elections?

In 2000, Nader's 2.74% of the popular vote might not have been enough to swing the election entirely. But if religious leaders back a third party candidate, will that be enough to divide the GOP and assist in a Democratic victory? Or is this just a threat meant to scare the GOP into nominating a more conservative candidate?

parimal said...

I think a third party candidate backed by a religious right would definitely split the GOP and hand the White House to the Democrats. Rasmussen Reports did a poll earlier this month that showed a potential 3-way matchup between Hillary, Giuliani, and a third-party pro-life candidate. Hillary had 46%, Giuliani had 30%, and the third-party candidate had 14%. In my opinion, even 5% or 6& for the third-party candidate would be enough to doom the Republican candidate.

As much as Republicans despise Hillary Clinton, I don't think even the prospect of her in the White House would get a lot of religious right voters behind Giuliani. I think many Christian conservatives are genuine about their pro-life moral convictions, and they would not vote for someone who supports a policy of what they believe is "murder". Furthermore, I suspect that many evangelicals would want to send a message to the Republican Party if Giuliani is the nominee: if you don't pick someone we find acceptable, you're going to lose. If Giuliani wins the presidency, it would drastically decrease the significance of the pro-life foundation of the Republican Party.

Here's what one of the most influential evangelical leaders, Dr. James Dobson, had to say on the matter:

"Speaking as a private citizen and not on behalf of any organization or party, I cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008. It is an irrevocable decision. If given a Hobson's – Dobson's? – choice between him and Sens. Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, I will either cast my ballot for an also-ran – or if worse comes to worst – not vote in a presidential election for the first time in my adult life. My conscience and my moral convictions will allow me to do nothing else."

Laura Umbrecht said...

This is, of course, assuming that the republican nomination goes to Giuliani. Worst case? Other republicans don't vote for Giuliani because they predict that exact scenario would happen- prompting the nomination of a more conservative candidate.

parimal said...

That's a very interesting point. People tend to think of Giuliani as "electable" because of his moderate positions on social issues and his relative popularity nationwide. But with some parts of the religious right threatening to support a third party candidate, Giuliani could actually lose in the primaries because Republicans fear he won't be able to win in November. The religious right's influence on the Republican Party truly is unlimited.

Georgetown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kipp! said...

What the religious right seems to miss is that it doesnt make a fucking difference who their nominee is, no Republican president is going to do anything about abortion. Pro-life republicans have been in the White House for 21 out of the last 27 years; they've nominated 12 out of the last 14 SC justices. Yet abortion remains legal. Of course, if they overturned Roe v Wade thered be less of a reason for the Christian Right to vote Republican in the first place...

parimal said...

Kipp, I have to somewhat disagree with you. Republicans have had the opportunity to nominate 12 out of the last 14 Supreme Court Justices, but many of their nominees who appeared pro-life have disappointed them on the bench and voted pro-choice, such as O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter. Nevertheless, many believe that the Supreme Court now has 4 justices committed to overturning Roe v. Wade in Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito (although no one is 100% positive about how Roberts and Alito would vote). When you consider the fact that poor John Paul Stevens is 87 years old, a vacancy appears very likely to occur by the end of the next president's first term. Thus, if Stevens is replaced with a pro-life nominee, Roe v. Wade may very well be overturned. It would take one hell of an effort to get such a nominee through a Democratic-controlled Senate, though.

Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, I think the Christian right would still mobilize on the issue of abortion. Basically, the tables would turn 180 degrees. Democrats would rail against the Republicans' assault on women's rights in state legislatures throughout the nation, and assert the need for more liberal justices. Republicans would be the ones talking about upholding precedent and the status quo. The religious right would still be enormously concerned about the prospect of Democratic presidents nominating liberal justices who could vote to protect abortion rights once again.