WASHINGTON – Rivals, pundits and the media have largely dismissed Republican candidate Mike Huckabee as a serious contender for the GOP nomination. But a group of black conservatives rallied behind him Monday ahead of the much-anticipated Super Tuesday contests to tell him to stay strong and stay in the race.
Supporters of the Republican underdog pointed to his consistent conservative record, his authenticity and his humble beginnings as reasons for their endorsements.
"He (Huckabee) does not waver from his views and we know that he is not a recent convert to conservatism," said Don Scoggins, president of Republicans for Black Empowerment.
"And we like that his life story pretty much mirrored the background of many African Americans," Scoggins added. "He comes from humble beginnings, he's worked hard, and gone to college – first one in his family who has graduated from high school. We feel that his life story is something to be emulated."
Huckabee, during his 10½ years as Arkansas governor, appointed more than 300 black Americans to state boards and commissions and received over 47 percent support from black voters during his re-election to the governorship.
"What many of us feel is that the Republican Party, hopefully with a President Huckabee, will start to be more inclusive [of black voters]," the president of Republicans for Black Empowerment hopes.
Other black speakers echoed Scoggins' sentiment about their candidate's conservative record and contrasted it with chief Republican rival Mitt Romney, whom they accused of flip-flopping on the values issues.
They argued against Romney's claim that a vote for Huckabee is a vote for Sen. John McCain, calling it "absolutely not true" and that support for Huckabee should not be misunderstood as support for Romney.
"It is like dating," explained Star Parker, conservative Christian activist and president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education. "We knew Romney was in this race from day one. It was a set-up marriage, a plan and we went on the first date and said no.
"And to now to take a second look and to think he is more acceptable today after flip-flopping on all of the issues," she said, noting specifically his former liberal stance on gay "marriage" and abortions.
As Massachusetts governor, his state became the first in the nation's history to legalize homosexual "marriage."
"For someone to get all the way to 2005 and not recognize the humanity of life in the womb, this person is not fit to be president of the country," fired Parker, who said she had four abortions before becoming a Christian and realizing it was wrong. "We need the nation to know that we are not going to get duped into accepting a second date.
"We are going to make sure that our candidate goes all the way to the White House because we really believe that he has the best ideas for this tender and vulnerable nation."
Some of the black conservative speakers admitted that they are ostracized in the black community and even within their families for being conservative and for not supporting Democratic candidate Barack Obama, who is vying to be the first black president.
But the black conservatives fought back and said that just because Obama is African American does not mean that he would be the best man for the presidency, or has the best interest of African Americans or the nation in mind.
The Rev. Dr. Clenard Childress, a Baptist minister and founder of Black Genocide, said he does feel the pressure to support an African American candidate, but reminded the audience that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted a nation where people are not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.
"African Americans are applauding Barack Obama according to the color of his skin and have not looked at the content of his character," said the highly active pro-life activist.
"The dream said to look at the content of character…So even though they like to quote Martin Luther King and talk about it because the media is looking for the next Martin Luther King, he (Obama) does not fit the bill of the dream," Childress said as he pointed to Obama's support of abortion and gay rights.
Taking in a more moderate tone, Dean Nelson, executive director of the Network of Politically Active Christians, conceded he probably would support Obama if he was not conservative. But as a conservative, he is worried about who Obama would bring with him to Washington.
"If he were president, I'd be more worried about who he would appoint to the Supreme Court, and quite frankly, a lot of the people around him are extremely liberal," Nelson warned. "We have to worry about who the person will bring with them. And Barack Obama, he himself I can probably deal with, but I am more concerned about what his White House and cabinet will look like."
Many black Christian leaders feel differently from their fellow conservative activists. The Obama campaign has been highly successful in attracting black voters, especially in South Carolina where they were credited for his crucial win. It is estimated that Obama took in more than 80 percent of the black vote in the state.
The campaign also organized a committee of top African American religious leaders in the country that have endorsed Obama and will help mobilize black voters to support the Illinois senator.
But going against their community, the media, and the odds, the relatively small group of about 50 black conservative leaders are standing in solidarity with the not-so-well financed and less popular Huckabee.
Catherine Davis, legislative director of the Network of Politically Active Christians and member of executive committee of Georgians for Huckabee, concluded, "I encourage every other American – black, white, pink or green – to join me and to join us who are here today to give him (Huckabee) their support and saying to Mike, 'Hold on. Do not withdraw from this race. Do not fall into the media hype, because those like me in this nation are going to support you and rush you into the White House,'" Davis encouraged.
Super Tuesday contests take place in 24 different states nationwide, with the Democrats in 22 states going to the polls and Republicans facing off in 21 states.