- (Photo: AP Images / Mary Altaffer)
Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said evangelical voters are atypical this election year, and as a result, the evangelical vote is up for grabs.
"The issues that drive evangelicals are the commitment to protect human life and sanctity of marriage, but it's no longer just those two issues," Huckabee told Montana-based The Billings Gazette this week.
"Younger evangelical voters are also concerned about poverty and the environment. I think the candidate that fails to address the broader agenda is going to fail to unify evangelicals."
In this election year, young evangelicals moved beyond the groups traditional agendas of same-sex marriage and the sanctity of life to consider candidates policy positions on climate change, public education, health care, torture among other social issues.
During the Florida primary, young evangelicals said they were searching for a presidential candidate that was compassionate, which they characterized as someone who cared about issues that dealt with alleviating human suffering.
And during last months Compassion Forum, even older conservative evangelical leaders asked the Democratic candidates to explain their stance on Darfur, prescription medication, and poverty topics formerly associated with liberal Christians.
CNN, who co-sponsored the event with Faith in Public Life, noted afterwards that evangelicals have changed and are broadening their list of major concerns. Commentators also highlighted how far the Democrats have progressed in addressing religion and politics.
Beliefnet.coms God-o-Meter has typically rated Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama way above Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain when it comes to the amount of God talk by the presidential hopefuls.
One of McCains religious advisors recently said that the Arizona senator feels uncomfortable speaking about his faith on the campaign trail because he feels that he is using religion for public gain.
His lack of religious talk, past bout of anger with religious right leaders, combined with his reputation as a maverick have been obstacles in uniting evangelicals behind his candidacy.
Evangelicals in the past were a core constituency of the Republican Party; in 2004 more than three-quarters of this voting bloc supported President Bushs bid for re-election and accounted for about a third of Bushs votes.
But thus far in the 2008 race, McCain has not been able to coalesce evangelicals who are leaving the party to be independent voters.
"They're (young religious voters) leaving the Republican Party in droves, but they're not automatically Democrats," said Jim Wallis, best-selling author of Gods Politics and The Great Awakening, to The Associated Press. "They're not going to jump in the pocket of the Democratic Party the way they did with the Republican Party."
Political science professor Christopher Muste of the University of Montana observes that the non-stereotypical evangelical voters this year combined with no strong evangelical candidate means that the sizable evangelical moderate population could be the swing vote, according to the Billings Gazette.