Riding an evangelical wave to victory in Iowa, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee by necessity has taken a decidedly more secular line in New Hampshire. Without the religious right base to tap into in the Granite State, Huckabee had focused instead on taxes, immigration and other more mundane issues of this world. But on Sunday in Windham, New Hampshire, the former Baptist Minister returned to his roots and delivered a sermon on being "soldiers for Christ" in "God's Army."
Echoing his 1998 battle cry to "take this nation back for Christ," Huckabee took to the pulpit of the Crossing church and spoke of his crusade in martial terms. (The choice of language is particularly ironic, given Huckabee's own non-service in the U.S. military.) As the Washington Post reported:
"When we become believers, it's as if we have signed up to be part of God's Army, to be soldiers for Christ," Huckabee told the enthusiastic audience.
"When you give yourself to Christ, some relationships have to go," he said. "It's no longer your life; you've signed it over."
Likening service to God to service in the military, Huckabee said "there is suffering in the conditioning for battle" and "you obey the orders."
By returning to form, Huckabee strayed off the script for his New Hampshire run. Hoping for a solid third place showing behind John McCain and Mitt Romney, Huckabee had largely adapted his faith-based candidacy for New Hampshire. The demography does not favor Huckabee; there will be no repeat of evangelicals constituting 60% of the GOP vote, as occurred in Iowa. The issues in New Hampshire don't work to his adavantage, either, where unique dependence on home heating oil puts energy costs among the top concerns. As the New York Times noted:
Christopher Duncklee, a longtime resident...predicted that the Iowa results - especially the victory of former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a favorite of evangelical Christians, on the Republican side - would not sway many New Hampshire voters.
"People here do not think religion belongs in politics," he said.
In his first New York Times column today, neo-conservative cheerleader Bill Kristol gushed about Mike Huckabee's chances to win the White House in 2008. Noting that Huckabee had shifted gears to his economic populist message in New Hampshire, Kristol argued that the former Arkansas Governor may have found the formula to win nationwide:
In general, here in New Hampshire he's emphasized social issues far less than in Iowa (though he doesn't waffle when asked about them). Instead he's stressed conservative economic themes, seamlessly (if somewhat inconsistently) weaving together a pitch for limited government with a message that government needs to do more to address the concerns of the struggling middle class. This latter point seems to be resonating, as headlines in local papers announce an increase in the national unemployment rate amid speculation about a coming recession.
His campaigning in New Hampshire has been impressive. At a Friday night event at New England College in Henniker, he played bass with a local rock band, Mama Kicks. One secular New Hampshire Republican's reaction: "Gee, he's not some kind of crazy Christian. He's an ordinary American."
As Perrspectives documented here and here, most Americans could be forgiven for concluding otherwise. And to be sure, Mike Huckabee's ministerial flashback on Sunday won't help change those perceptions.
For more background on the dangerous extremism of Mike Huckabee, see: