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In Iowa, GOP Candidates Tout Conservative Values

December 17, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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In the second of a series of reports on the tightening presidential race in Iowa as the state's Jan. 3 caucus grows closer, Ray Suarez looks at how Republican candidates are focusing their efforts on courting conservative voters in the state.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now, the second of our reports on furious pre-holiday campaigning in Iowa. Judy Woodruff reported on the Democrats on Friday. Today, Ray Suarez has the Republicans.

RAY SUAREZ: When former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee blew into Iowa last week, he faced a complicated task. As money, volunteers and suddenly attention all came his way, he had to hold on to a newly solidifying lead in Iowa and run in the cascade of primary states that follow just days after Iowa.

About the same time last week, an article from yesterday’s New York Times magazine hit the Web site. Reporter Zev Chafets recounted a recent conversation with Huckabee, an ordained Baptist preacher, in which he asked of Mormonism, “Don’t Mormons believe Jesus and the devil are brothers?”

Controversy followed. Was it an attempt to remind Iowa voters of Romney’s Mormon religion, a shot at the Latter Day Saints Church? Huckabee’s explanation was more benign.

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: He was asking me about the whole issue of my faith, and then it drifted to, what do I think about Mormonism? I said, “I don’t want to talk about somebody else’s faith.” He was saying, “But there are some different things about Mormonism.” He obviously knew more about it than I did.

In the course of that conversation, honestly, I raised the question, I asked, “Is this part of their beliefs?” The next thing I know — I mean, it was in the story. It was even quoted in the story as an innocent question, but no one believed it was an innocent question. They thought I was trying to throw something out there. I was horrified when I read that.

RAY SUAREZ: The two former governors shared the stage at the first Republican debate in Iowa since summer, and Huckabee says he sought out the Massachusetts governor right after.

MIKE HUCKABEE: I apologized to Mitt Romney, because, first of all, I don’t think his being a Mormon or not being a Mormon has a thing to do with his being president. And I would never say that a person should vote for or against anybody because they’re of any faith. I don’t think people ought to vote for or against me because I’m a Baptist.

RAY SUAREZ: For his part, Governor Romney acknowledged the Huckabee apology and moved on.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: He said that he wanted to apologize for the statements that had been made, and I said, “Apology accepted.” Pretty much that. That’s it.

Evangelicals push Huckabee ahead

A.J. Robertson
Huckabee volunteer
[I]f you take God out of America, what are you going to have? You're going to have a country that has no hope.

RAY SUAREZ: With a heavy concentration of conservative, religious caucusgoers, denominational identity has popped up again and again as the race between the former evangelical pastor and the Mormon businessman tighten. Huckabee pulled ahead in several recent polls.

Forty-five percent of Republican caucusgoers in Iowa say they are evangelicals, and polls indicate they're the source of Huckabee's surge in support.

While campaigning in Iowa, many of the Republican candidates have had to make a kind of straddle: affirm the value of religious faith in their own lives and in the history of the country, while carefully separating out the role of president and the work of government from the work of religious institutions.

It's been a special challenge for Mike Huckabee, given his career as a Baptist pastor. But for many of the Iowa voters and campaign volunteers, those subtle distinctions aren't really necessary.

A.J. Robertson put his small business on hold back in Indiana to come work for the Huckabee campaign. His support is rooted in the governor's religion and his own.

It sounds like for you, at least, that a candidate's personal faith acts as a qualification.

A.J. ROBERTSON, Huckabee Volunteer: It definitely does, because if you take God out of America, what are you going to have? You're going to have a country that has no hope.

RAY SUAREZ: Voters like Kyle Vandergig (ph), a Republican who hasn't made up his mind, is intrigued by Governor Huckabee.

IOWA REPUBLICAN: I like his Christian values. I guess that's kind of why I'm kind of leaning that way with him.

RAY SUAREZ: Former New York Mayor Giuliani leads the national polls but is considered socially liberal in Iowa and has all been given up campaigning here. Polls show Giuliani receiving half the support of Huckabee or Romney.

Other Republican candidates, including Senator John McCain, remain low in recent polls. McCain may benefit from yesterday's endorsement from Iowa's leading newspaper, the Des Moines Register.

Assessing religion in politics

Mike Rose
Pastor, First Federated Church
I would like to think that if Mike Huckabee were elected president that his values and his faith would affect the way he would govern.

RAY SUAREZ: And after losing the lead in Iowa, Mitt Romney delivered a carefully crafted speech about faith and American political tradition that many believe was a response to Huckabee's gains.

MITT ROMNEY: Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together or perish alone.

RAY SUAREZ: And as Huckabee tries to keep it light...

MIKE HUCKABEE: I can barely keep up with being a Baptist. I sure don't know that much about being a Mormon.

RAY SUAREZ: He's also called upon repeatedly to explain what a politician's religion has to do with a voter's choice.

I mean, you're not saying, "Vote for me because I'm the same thing as you"?

MIKE HUCKABEE: Oh, no.

RAY SUAREZ: Or, "Vote with me because I agree with you theologically or you agree with me"?

MIKE HUCKABEE: I think it's, "Vote for me even if you disagree with me, because at least you know that the things that I believe I really do believe." They're not just political positions; they're convictions. And the difference between a conviction and a preference is that you'll change your preferences if one is not available. Your convictions you're pretty well sold on.

REV. MIKE ROSE, First Federated Church: Salvation grace is about fixing our broken lives so that we can serve.

RAY SUAREZ: The Reverend Mike Rose is pastor of the Federated Community Church in Des Moines. He was undecided about where to go in this race until the last few weeks.

REV. MIKE ROSE: Well, at this point, I plan to support Mike Huckabee.

RAY SUAREZ: The pastor says he won't be urging his 1,000-strong non-denominational congregation to head to the caucuses for Huckabee. He thinks too many churches have gone overboard in their involvement in political campaigns. But he senses he has a lot in common with this pastor-turn-politician.

REV. MIKE ROSE: I would like to think that if Mike Huckabee were elected president that his values and his faith would affect the way he would govern.

RAY SUAREZ: And while the Reverend Rose calls Romney his second choice and would support him if Romney was the Republican nominee, his attitude toward the LDS Church reflects that of many Christian conservatives in Iowa.

REV. MIKE ROSE: A theological perspective, if you take the tenets of the Mormon faith and you match them up against biblical Christianity, the two do not mesh together any more than Christianity meshes with Islam or even Judaism. So, from that perspective, I would have to say that Mormonism is not Christian. It's Mormon.

RAY SUAREZ: But that is not to say that everyone who calls themselves a values voter is swinging to Huckabee. Peggy Adasme sees Governor Romney as her caucus choice.

PEGGY ADASME, Iowa Republican: I like Governor Romney's commercial that marriage must come first. Children need a mother and a father. And I think that's crucial, too. If you take apart the family, which is our core value of society, then you destroy a lot of the fabric of society.

RAY SUAREZ: Romney supporter Jo Anne Thrap says religion shouldn't carry so much weight.

JO ANNE THRAP, Iowa Republican: I don't look at him as a Mormon running for president. I look at him as an American running for president. And I don't look at, you know, Hillary Clinton as a woman running for president. I consider her a candidate, also, just like I would consider, you know, Obama, too.

I think that to put them into such narrow categories and say, "I'm going to only vote for, you know, a woman, or I'm going to vote for a black, or I'm going to vote for a Mormon," is way too narrow of a category, I think. You have to look at the individual and vote for what they stand for.

MITT ROMNEY: There's no special pathway to permanent residency or citizenship just because you come here illegally.

Looking past Iowa

Ray Weets
Iowa Republican
I'll look at both Romney's voting record, see what he did as governor, and Huckabee, as well, see what they actually did, rather than what they said.

RAY SUAREZ: Reflecting Iowans' concerns with illegal immigration, he hits Huckabee hard on policies like foreign-born children of illegal immigrants paying in-state tuition in state schools.

MITT ROMNEY: If a state wants to give out tuition breaks to illegal aliens and scholarships to illegal aliens, taxpayer-funded, I'm going to say, "You can do that as you want, state, but if you do that, we're not going to send you as much federal money. You make that choice. We're not going to give you the federal dollars you used to get if you want to start giving money to illegal aliens."

RAY SUAREZ: But he, too, is looking ahead.

MITT ROMNEY: It's typically been said that you've got to get one of three tickets coming out of Iowa. I want to win. If I don't win, I want to get one of those three tickets, and then go on to New Hampshire and Wyoming. But I'm pleased with the response I've gotten so far and intend to do very well.

RAY SUAREZ: Huckabee's ease in front of a crowd and use of humor may have played a hand in his rise in Iowa, a state where voters often get to visit presidential candidates in person.

MIKE HUCKABEE: If you think that Medicare is expensive now, wait until 10,000 aging hippies a day find out they can get free drugs. Then, it's really going to get expensive in a hurry.

RAY SUAREZ: But the calendar is both men's enemy.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: My name is Daniel. I'm a volunteer with the Huckabee for President campaign. And the purpose for my call is to see if you're planning to attend the caucus on January 3rd.

RAY SUAREZ: Huckabee's bare-bones campaign had raised $2 million by the end of October for the entire campaign season. Then, in November alone, $2 million more poured in. Now, he's got to ramp up, not just in Iowa, but in a lot of places all at once.

So do you feel like you can even take the risk of leaving this state?

MIKE HUCKABEE: Well, we want to build on it. We're very grateful for the great support we have in Iowa, but it's also being mirrored by support across the country.

We're showing up number one in places where we don't even understand, Michigan, Delaware, as well as places like Georgia, South and North Carolina. So we're very pleased with not just what's happening in Iowa, but what's really happening across America.

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you very, very much. Good to see you.

RAY SUAREZ: Romney, who outspent his principal opponent 10-to-1 and outraised him 30-to-1, is banking on the fact that an unusually large percentage of Iowa Republicans say they could still change their minds. Joyce Mershman (ph) always makes a point to caucus, but this year she says she's really stuck about who to vote for.

IOWA REPUBLICAN: I still don't know. I have a few weeks to decide. Still don't know.

RAY WEETS, Iowa Republican: They talk a lot of great game, but I want to really see -- you know, I'll look at both Romney's voting record, see what he did as governor, and Huckabee, as well, see what they actually did, rather than what they said.

RAY SUAREZ: It's likely the Republican candidates will also be spending a great deal of time and money talking about their opponents' records with less than three weeks until caucus day.