Young evangelical voters in Florida are in search of a presidential candidate that is beyond just a defender of traditional values – although that is still important to them. They want a leader who is compassionate.
The compassion factor is among a broad range of issues that will affect the decision of young Republican evangelicals as they cast their votes Tuesday. Unlike previous Christian right leaders, this new generation is looking at issues that include the protection of the environment, reducing poverty, fighting genocide and access to healthcare.
Lauren McLaughlin, 19, a student at the University of Central Florida and a member of the evangelical megachurch Northland, A Church Distributed, said "the compassion issues and global policy are most important," to her, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
McLaughlin had spent Friday helping to sign up new voters through the Christian program called "Redeem the Vote" and said she was "still researching" on which GOP candidate to support.
"There's such a split between younger evangelicals and what were the traditional old guard who lean toward economic issues and issues like abortion, gay rights and limited government," said Dr. Randy Brinson, chairman of "Redeem the Vote," and an Alabama physician.
"It's not that young evangelicals don't embrace those issues, but they look at them in a broader context."
A recent Beliefnet.com poll showed "evangelical/born again" Christians cared about the economy, cleaning up the government, reducing poverty, and improving public education/access to health care before traditional issues such as ending abortion and stopping gay "marriage."
According to the Orlando Sentinel, white evangelicals are expected to make up anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of those likely to vote in the GOP primary.
A Mason-Dixon Florida Poll conducted last week showed 28 percent of self-described "born again" voters backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; 27 percent supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; and 23 percent favored Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Huckabee is the favorite for many evangelicals because of his past experience as a preacher and his openness about his religious conviction. He is also touting a populist message that addresses the concerns of the middle class and the poor working class.
"That's the appeal for us as new kinds of conservatives," said the Rev. Joel Hunter, Northland's pastor, who cast an early ballot for Huckabee. "The compassion aspect is important to us, as well as his populism."
But McCain may be resonating with younger evangelicals who see a compassionate side to the war hero in his support for the environment and the divisive comprehensive immigration reform bill.
"Younger evangelical voters support McCain because of his support for the environment and what may seem to them to be a compassionate position on immigration reform," Hunter noted.
Only former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – who is twice divorced and pro-abortion and gay rights – seemed to lack support among evangelicals, receiving only nine percent support from this group.
"There's such a breadth of evangelical voters, because there's no monolithic bloc," commented Hunter.
"Each candidate speaks to a different interest of the evangelical perspective, and each is getting a share of the pocketbook and family-values vote," Hunger, also the author of A New Kind of Conservative, noted.
The latest report showed McCain and Romney in a heated head-to-head battle in the Florida primary.