Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was the overwhelming favorite in a straw poll taken on site at Friday and Saturday’s Washington values voter summit, but Internet voting by supporters of Mitt Romney made the former Massachusetts governor the official winner.
Romney topped the straw poll with 1,595 votes, 30 votes ahead of the former governor of Arkansas. But that was after Mark DeMoss, co-chair of Romney’s Faith & Values Steering Committee sent out an e-mail Thursday night alerting supporters they could vote on-line in the straw poll without attending the meeting by registering and making a donation of as little as $1.
“I wouldn’t be writing you this evening if I didn’t believe you could make a major difference for Governor Romney’s campaign,” DeMoss wrote. “At this crucial moment for the campaign we want to make sure that America knows that voters like you, who care about values, support Governor Romney.”
After aides of other Republican candidates accused the Romney campaign of stacking the poll, organizers released a separate poll of people who voted inside the hall. Huckabee was runaway winner of that poll, winning 51 percent compared to 10 percent for Romney and 8 percent for Fred Thompson.
Romney did not give the speech some expected, confronting concerns of Christian voters who won’t support him because he is a Mormon, but instead tried to deflect the issue with humor.
“By the way, I imagine one or two of you may have heard that I’m a Mormon,” Romney said. “I understand that some people think they couldn’t support someone of my faith. But I think that’s just because they’ve listened to Harry Reid.”
Alluding to the perception that he cannot win in a general election, Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, rallied the audience with lessons he said he learned in Sunday school.
“I was led to believe that it was a lot better to be with David, that little shepherd boy with five smooth stones, than with Goliath, with all his heavy armor,” he said. “I was taught that it was better to be Daniel than a whole den full of lions, because Daniel would come out a lot better off than those lions that went to sleep before it was all over. I was taught that it was better to be one of the three Hebrew children than it was to be the fiery flames of the furnace, because with God’s power those flames couldn’t even leave the smell of smoke on the lives and clothes of those three Hebrew children. I was taught that it was better to be Elijah, with an altar that had been soaked–not once, not twice but three times with water–than it was to be 850 prophets of Baal screaming and yelling all day long for the fire to fall on Mount Carmel.”
Huckabee warned against politicians who talk religious language just to win votes and the temptation to allow political expediency to replace commitment to moral values. Like many in the crowd, Huckabee said, he is affiliated with a political party.
“But I want to make it very clear that for me, I do not spell God G-O-P,” Huckabee said. “Our party may be important, but our principles are even more important than anybody’s political party.”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain finished at the bottom of the official straw poll. Giuliani got 1.85 percent of that vote and McCain 1.4 percent. Yet despite differences with the crowd over abortion and gay marriage, Giuliani’s performance garnered 6.3 percent of the voters inside the hall.
“Because I find myself too often failing to live up to the ideals of my religious ideas and beliefs, I don’t easily publicly define myself as the best example of faith,” Giuliani confessed. “But my belief in God and reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am, I can assure you of that.”
Giuliani described his Catholic upbringing and talked about praying for forgiveness for and learning from his personal failures.
“If we expect perfection from our political leaders, we are just asking to be disappointed,” he said. “We lose trust in political leaders not because they are imperfect, after all they are human. We lose trust in them when they’re not honest with us. Likewise if we’re honest with each other, trust will follow.”
McCain, who has had problems with the Religious Right since labeling Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance” in 2000, gave moving accounts of how his faith and patriotism helped him get through his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
He also cautioned against allowing efforts to fight terrorists to erode American values.
“It’s not easy to preserve our ideals in the midst of a difficult struggle with those who despise every value we stand for,” McCain said. “It’s not easy to see the humanity of our enemies, who refuse to acknowledge our humanity and whose cruelty is so wanton and so sickening. The Bible’s call to do just that reminds me of the saying that Christianity has not been tried and wanting so much as it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Former Sen. Fred Thompson told the crowd he has been asked what he would do in his first 100 days as president.
“I don’t really know what I would do in my first hundred days,” he said. “It would depend on the circumstances.”
However, he added: “I know what I would do the first hour that I was president. I would go into the Oval Office and close the door and pray for the wisdom to know what was right. And I would pray for the strength to do what is right.”
Since entering the race, Thompson has disappointed religious leaders who hoped he would become the clear standard bearer for the Religious Right by his admission that he rarely attends church and doesn’t like to talk about his faith.
Thompson’s support inside the meeting hall was 1.6 percent lower than the 9.77 percent he received in the official straw poll that included Internet voters, placing fourth behind Ron Paul, who was dead last among Republicans by voters on site but, like Romney, registered a strong showing on line.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.