NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–One day before Super Tuesday, when he hopes to regain some much-needed momentum in the South, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told Baptist Press that the GOP must not relegate social conservatives to the “back of the bus,” as he says some “establishment Republicans” have done.
The former Arkansas governor also said that, of the two leading GOP candidates still in the race, he has more concerns about Mitt Romney.
Evangelical voters are key to Huckabee’s success. He won Iowa on the strength of such voters and hopes evangelicals will go to the polls for him Tuesday. A Baptist minister at two Arkansas churches before becoming governor of that state, Huckabee spoke at two Southern Baptist churches Sunday — First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., during the morning and Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., during the evening.
“What we’re beginning to find out now,” he told BP, “is that some of the establishment Republicans were more than happy to have social conservatives, as long as we would make sure we helped provide the vote margin to get Republicans elected and we were willing to hammer in yard signs and attend rallies and scream. But when we actually wanted to not just have a seat at the table but sit at the head of the table, make decisions on issues that are very, very important to us and always have been, suddenly we’re not welcome anymore. We’ve been asked to go to the back of the bus.
“It’s been very revealing. Either this is a party that social conservatives have a home in or we don’t…. We’ve paid our dues.”
Huckabee said he too often gets labeled and dismissed by the press and “the establishment” as a former Baptist pastor, rather than acknowledging him as a former governor.
“I didn’t just come out of the pulpit last Sunday and say, ‘I think I’d like to run for president,'” he said. “I’ve governed for 10 and a half years. I came to this race with more executive experience in running a government than anybody else.”
He also believes he should be the choice for social conservatives.
“On issues that particularly matter to Southern Baptists, I’m neither a Johnny-come-lately nor somebody who is unclear on positions,” he said. “For example, on the human life amendment, the marriage amendment, those are issues that I’m the only candidate with real strength — the only one with consistency. McCain … is pro-life but doesn’t support the marriage amendment. Romney, you never know what he believes. Right now he says he’s pro-life but he’s been all over the board, and [on the] marriage amendment, the same thing.”
In recent days Huckabee has dismissed suggestions by some conservative pundits and talk-show hosts that he should drop out of the race so Romney — who some conservatives such as Sean Hannity prefer — can compete with McCain one-on-one. But Huckabee has said he is not dropping out, and he implied in comments to BP that, of the other two candidates, his preference is for McCain.
“I’ve said that I’m going to vote for the nominee of my party, and certainly it would be better than the other [alternative, the Democratic nominee],” he said. “Romney, frankly, is the one that troubles me most, because even when I disagree with McCain — and I do on stem cell research and a human life amendment and immigration and several other issues — I know where he stands and he has some moral center that he’s willing to stick by. The challenge with Romney is you just truly know that the only thing you can count on him believing in is him [wanting to be] elected president.”
The campaign has been physically demanding on Huckabee, as it is on all candidates. He said he gets four hours of sleep at night if he’s “lucky.”
“There are short nights and long days, and there are no two [days] that are quite alike,” he said. “It involves precious less sleep than I probably should need…. But it means that I have to be very focused on time management. I’ve got to really redeem the time. That phrase has become more meaningful to me than ever before.”
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press. To hear audio from Mike Huckabee’s comments at Bellevue Baptist Church, go here.