NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took time off the campaign trail Nov. 5 to speak at a Christian college fundraiser, although he made news earlier in the day with a written statement criticizing Fred Thompson’s positions on two hot-button social issues.
Huckabee’s appearance at a 10th-anniversary event for Williamson Christian College came as his campaign gains momentum, especially in the early state of Iowa, where he is second in some polls. Additionally, two national polls Nov. 5 placed him in double digits for the first time; he was fourth in one poll and fifth in the other.
His speech at the fundraiser for the Nashville-area college stayed away from politics and instead concentrated on the importance of education. He graduated from a Christian school, Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.
“I know the difference that makes — to not only train the mind but to train your soul,” Huckabee told the audience.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, served as emcee for the event and thanked Huckabee for appearing there despite his busy campaign schedule, saying it reflected well on Huckabee’s character. Chapman also said that if it were to be God’s will for Huckabee to become president, Chapman “would have comfort to know that there’s a man in the Oval Office who during crisis and major decisions … would stop and be on his knees and seeking wisdom from above, which is the only source of wisdom.”
Earlier in the day Huckabee’s campaign was pointing out what it considers key differences between Huckabee’s positions and those of Thompson. The two men are seen as battling for the same social conservative voters.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Nov. 4, Thompson said he opposes a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution — an amendment backed by the 2004 GOP platform — although Thompson said he wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
“I thought Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided,” Thompson said. “… Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions. I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with — that’s what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and the federal government … serves us very, very well. I think that’s true of abortion. I think Roe v. Wade hopefully one day will be overturned, and we can go back to the pre-Roe v. Wade days.”
Thompson said he believes life begins at conception and that he had a 100 percent voting record as a senator and would govern that way if president. Thompson also reiterated that while he opposes the current form of the federal marriage amendment, he supports one that would prohibit judges from legalizing “gay marriage” but that would allow state legislators to do so.
“We’ve had … a judge-created problem,” Thompson said. “I would support a constitutional amendment that addresses this judge-created problem.”
Huckabee asserted that Thompson’s positions are outside the conservative realm.
“Senator Thompson’s comments on ‘Meet the Press’ were disappointing and disheartening for those who were expecting him to be a solid voice for conservatives,” Huckabee said in the statement. “The marriage and life amendments are critical issues for those of us who have been on the front lines of these cultural battles. Sen. Thompson’s philosophy seems to be more ‘cut and run’ when it comes to these issues, rather than stand and lead.”
Huckabee added that he has “always supported” a human life amendment and would “fight for passage” of it if elected president.
“No candidate has a stronger record on the sanctity of life than I do,” he said. “As governor of Arkansas, I successfully led efforts to promote a human life amendment and marriage amendment in my state. For me, it isn’t just talk; it’s a conservative record of leadership and conviction.”
Thompson, though, didn’t let Huckabee’s statement go without a response.
“I don’t need to justify myself to the governor,” he said on FOX News, according to a transcript. “… I have been pro-life all my career and I always will be. Gov. Huckabee talks about this, I suppose, because it’s the only conservative position he’s got. People talk about sanctuary cities — he apparently wanted a sanctuary state in Arkansas. He’s very weak on immigration policy. He was one of the highest taxing governors that we had in this country and rivaling Bill Clinton in terms of the CATO ratings and getting a B when Clinton got a B and getting an F for part of his administration.”
Huckabee previously used a Wall Street Journal column to defend his tax policies as governor, saying his record was one of cutting taxes and that he “pushed through the Arkansas Legislature the first major, broad-based tax cuts in state history.”
The same day the men exchanged remarks, it was announced that Shannon Royce, who once served with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s office in Washington, D.C., would be joining the Thompson campaign. Royce most recently was a consultant to the ERLC. She resigned that position November 2.
ERLC President Richard Land said the SBC agency would miss Royce in her advisory role with the group.
“Shannon Royce has provided sterling and dedicated service to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptists and evangelicals for many years,” Land said, noting she was an “invaluable asset in assisting evangelicals in standing for the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.”
Royce, who was legislative counsel and director of government relations from October 1999 to March 2003 for the ERLC, will serve as the as director of grassroots and special projects for the Thompson campaign.
“We are blessed that Shannon has joined our team,” Randy Enwright, the campaign’s national political director, said in a statement. Enwright noted Royce was a “lawyer and a seasoned political operative with a vast network of connections.”
“Shannon is well known and highly respected in Evangelical Christian circles and has been on the front lines of all key battles important to social conservatives,” he continued. “She is an important addition to our operation and will make a tangible impact.”
Royce explained she had been watching Thompson for some time and she was “struck by his consistent record as a conservative.”
“His record is solid and his views are based on a deeply philosophical approach to the issues,” Royce said.
“He has faced significant personal challenges in recent years and has come through with a clarity of purpose that is born of those personal challenges,” she said, adding, “It is for these reasons that I am committed to helping him.”
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Dwayne Hastings of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.