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Faith and politics mix easily for Huckabee

  • Story Highlights
  • Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is a former Baptist preacher
  • Huckabee is also a former governor of Arkansas
  • Evangelical support fueling Huckabee's surge in Iowa
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By John King
CNN Washington Bureau
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RINDGE, New Hampshire (CNN) -- The Cathedral of the Pines is a rural New Hampshire jewel, a perfect spot for prayer or reflection, tucked into the rolling hills.

And it's the perfect place for a preacher-turned-politician like Mike Huckabee to take a walk, and take a break from the rigors of the presidential campaign.

Huckabee is the surprise of the Republican race, and a real-time lesson in the often blurry line between God and politics.

"I put my head on the pillow and I just want to make sure that the father above is pleased," Huckabee told CNN when a recent interview turned to the subject of his his faith influences his politics. "In essence, I can say that I have one client I have to please."

This past Sunday, he demonstrated his comfort at the pulpit in a Baptist church in South Carolina.

"I am here today to talk about Jesus and not to talk about me," Huckabee told congregants.

"If you have been a pastor as I have and then you run for office, you have people who are incredibly uncomfortable with all that," said Huckabee, who was a small town Southern Baptist pastor before entering politics.

Huckabee is anything but uncomfortable about faith-based politics, often discussing his faith, and making it a central theme of his new Iowa TV ad.

"Faith doesn't just influence me -- it defines me," Huckabee says in the ad.

Not since religious broadcaster Pat Robertson sought the Republican nomination in 1988 has someone so openly defined by faith had such a prominent role on the national political stage.

"It's very rare to have someone who has a religious background; who's been a pastor; who has also served in high public office such as a governor or senator and can put those roles together effectively," said John Green, a University of Akron professor who studies the role of religion in politics.

In a recent interview with CNN, I asked Huckabee if he felt a "calling" to run for president -- and he responded with his trademark sense of humor.

"I'm not going to go around saying God wants me to be president, because the last time I checked God isn't registered to vote in any of the primary states," Huckabee said. "Now if he shows up to vote, I am certainly going to solicit his support."

His strength in Iowa comes from evangelicals who see him as one of their own.

"His pro-life stance. His stance on the marriage issue. ... Iowa has a pretty large constituency that comes from a conservative pro-family, pro-life perspective," said Steve Scheffler of the Iowa Christian Alliance.

Huckabee's biggest short-term challenges are building deeper organizations in Iowa and other early nominating contests, and improving his fund-raising.

But a longer term question, if there is a longer term for his candidacy, is whether the focus on faith that works in conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina becomes more controversial elsewhere.

"Most Americans are very comfortable with religion and politics," Green said in a CNN interview Tuesday. "But there is a large minority of Americans, perhaps 25 percent, perhaps a third of the electorate depending exactly how you ask the question, that would have some real downs about having someone with a religious background, a clergy person in high public office."

But, so far, Green gives Huckabee high marks on his handling of the issue.

"Up to this point, [former Arkansas] Gov. Huckabee seems to have done a very good job of talking about his faith and politics in a very comfortable and apparently sincere fashion -- that's a bit unusual," Green said. "There are many politicians who have a hard time putting those two things together.

"Of course, we're looking at Republican primary voters now, which are a group of people that tend to value faith to a very great extent," Green added. "This strategy may not work as well in a general election."

Huckabee, of course, would love the chance to put that question to the test. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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