Huck, Chuck, and J.C.: Does it work in New Hampshire?

Posted: Jan 08, 2008 1:31 PM
Huck, Chuck, and J.C.: Does it work in New Hampshire?

Is there an evangelical vote in New Hampshire?

Certainly, there are evangelicals and evangelicals who vote, but the conventional wisdom is that the demographic that famously boosted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to a surprising victory in Iowa is smaller here and less liable to vote for the "Christian leader" Huckabee has presented.

After Fox News' Sunday night debate, in which Huckabee stumbled uncharacteristically on taxes and illegal immigration and equally uncharacteristically avoided any overt religious talk, undecided New Hampshirites were more icy to the Southern governor than the weather:

"I think we don't wear our religion on our shoulder and I think that's how Huckabee got the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire realizes that," said one voter.

"I'm not voting for a pastor. I'm voting for a president of this country. And, when I look at Huckabee, there is so much religion intertwined in him, that he turns me off," said another.

Some have estimated, however, that evangelical voters will make up about one fifth of registered Republican primary voters in New Hampshire Tuesday. And, though Huckabee has certainly taken a less religious tone during his high-profile tour of New Hampshire this weekend, evangelical supporters are still likely to respond to the religious image he has formed up until this weekend.

Before his surge in polls and win in Iowa, Huckabee had preached in at least four New Hampshire evangelical churches, according to the Boston Globe. He spoke briefly at a small church Sunday while attending worship services. Press were allowed a photo op, but not inside the church according to the campaign, so as not to disrupt the services. At Grace Fellowship Church in Nashua, a modern evangelical church in a towering, historic New Hamphire building, casually dressed churchgoers swayed and raised hands while a full band of 20-something musicians gave an electric edge to praise music and old hymns.

The church, which boasts a Russian service and a Brazilian service for immigrant populations, takes civic duty seriously, and the primary is not forgotten inside its walls. Huckabee has preached there on his earlier trips to the state, and Sunday was not without politics, either. The handout featured a reminder:

"We have the rare and historic privilege in thisw state to vote every for years in the first residential primary in the nation! This Tuesday is the New Hampshure Primary. Please do two things; 1) Pray for God to raise up His man or woman and 2) don't forget to vote! Please don't miss your spiritual and civic roles as citizens of both heaven and earth."

The sermon notes sheet allowed worshippers to follow along in the preacher's message about civic duty as a part of responsible Christian faith.

Huckabee has drawn very large crowds in New Hampshire. A Sunday event called the "Chowderfest Meet and Greet" was moved from its original location in a local restaurant to a school gym to accommodate the 600-700 listeners.

His sign coverage on the state's snow-covered right-of-ways rivals Mitt Romney's and beats John McCain's.

But are the crowds there for Huck or Chuck? When Huckabee entered sans Chuck on Sunday, there were noticeable murmurs: "I thought Chuck was gonna be here? Where's Chuck?" Chuck was later announced to a standing ovation and much neck-craning and digital-picture snapping.

But voters in the room said the surging governor appealed to them with his plan for rehauling the tax system.

The McGuinesses, two Independent Huckabee supporters attracted to his Fair Tax plan, have been supporters for several months and predict the governor will surprise: "I think he'll do well in New Hampshire. He might not win, but he'll do well," said Richard McGuinness.

Other voters, such as the owner of the Lobster Tail restaurant, which was to host the event, went for the message of change offered by the unorthodox Republican—a sort of Obama-light, Obama-like admiration for the outsider.

"I've been thinking about what happened in Iowa and I'm happy," she said. "Somebody said it couldn't be done, but we're proving them wrong."

Still others threw in their lot with Huckabee when Fred Thompson didn't deliver upon his entry into the race.

Huck's hovering around 13 percent in polls, easily outdoing Thompson and Giuliani, who have passed on the state. A surprisingly strong showing would give him plenty of momentum heading into evangelical-friendly South Carolina.

So far, Huckabee's specialty has been being surprisingly strong. Today, we'll find out if Huck, Chuck, and the Big Man Upstairs are a draw in the Granite State.