Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee expressed dismay Thursday over the Rev. John Hagee's endorsement of frontrunner John McCain, accusing the evangelical leader of putting politics ahead of principle.
"He just thought that the political rationale was he wanted to get on Sen. McCain's team, and he thought he was gonna win the nomination," Huckabee said after a Texarkana rally on Thursday, according to MSNBC. "I don't think that's a foregone conclusion, and even if I did, I would stand on principle more than I would politics."
Huckabee said Hagee told him he endorsed McCain because he assumed he'd win the nomination.
"I felt that it was totally out of character for what I knew he believed," Huckabee said, "or at least I thought he did."
The former Arkansas governor said he was surprised by Hagee's endorsement because he claims McCain lacks the commitment to the abortion issue. McCain has a 100 percent anti-abortion voting record, but he supports stem-cell research, which some pro-lifers equate with abortion because the embryo is destroyed during the extraction process.
Huckabee said he spoke with Hagee and expressed his "disappointment and surprise" and asked him to delay publicly supporting McCain. But the televangelist announced his endorsement of McCain at a news conference Wednesday.
Hagee, the pastor of the 17,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, is considered helpful to McCain's image among evangelicals – who have overwhelmingly rallied behind Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.
Thus far, evangelicals and Christian conservatives have been reluctant to back McCain, citing many instances where he strayed from the "right" agenda. Prominent Christian conservative leaders, such as Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, have criticized McCain as undependable on key conservative issues.
But Hagee defended McCain, citing his anti-abortion voting record and his support of Israel. The Texas megachurch pastor is arguably the nation's staunchest pro-Israel Christian leader, having helped found Christians United for Israel, a lobbying group aimed at pressing Congress to support Israel.
Hagee's endorsement could end up hurting Huckabee in the Texas primary on Mar. 4, which is critical for him to win to stay in the race.