WASHINGTON – The Baptist preacher from Arkansas who sprinkled his speech with southern jokes while standing his ground on moral issues won the support of over half the religious and cultural conservatives who voted at a key gathering this weekend.
Republican White House hopeful and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee received 51.26 percent of the onsite votes in the Values Voter Summit's straw poll compared to onsite runner-up Mitt Romney's 10.40 percent, according to announcement Saturday.
Yet despite the strong onsite showing, Huckabee lost overall to former Massachusetts governor Romney by a narrow margin of 30 votes, receiving altogether 1,565 votes (online and onsite) compared to his rival's 1,595 votes.
"It has been such an uphill battle trying to get fair coverage on Mike Huckabee," said Eric Lupardus, a volunteer with Team Huckabee, after the straw poll results were revealed.
Lupardus and his father traveled from St. Louis, Mo., to join more than 2,500 "value voters" for the three-day summit in Washington and support their candidate of choice.
"[Huckabee's] speech was the best and people were just fired up," he said, describing the crowd's response as "overwhelming."
"Then to see a candidate with more money and a better oiled machine steal the vote online was just really frustrating," he added.
However, Lupardus said he also felt "vindicated" with the straw poll result because it "shot those people down" who said Huckabee didn't have what it takes to be president or to get the votes.
"I think he (Huckabee) best represents the conservative movement in America," Lupardus said when asked the reason for his support of the former Arkansas governor.
The Values Voters straw poll result was a shocker to many people at the summit given the visible outpour of support for the Baptist preacher turned presidential candidate. Of all the candidates present at the summit, Huckabee received the most standing ovations from the crowd.
Huckabee – who said he does not "come to" but rather "comes from" the values voting audience – pledged to make a constitutional amendment to the definition of marriage and when life begins and protect the freedom of speech of pastors.
"We do not have the right to move God's standard to meet the cultural norm but we need to move the cultural norm to meet God's standards," said Huckabee in reference to risky sexual behavior.
He also vowed to protect the border, reform the tax system, fight Islamic fascism, and stop energy and manufactured dependence.
"I don't want to see our food come from China, our oil come from Saudi Arabia, and our manufacturers come from Europe and Asia," said Huckabee, who Time Magazine named as one of the five best governors in America in 2005
"It is high time for us to tell Saudi Arabia that in ten years we will have as much interest in their oil as their sand; they can keep both of them," he said to a crowd of laughter and applause.
"For too long we have financed both sides of the war on terrorism; our tax dollars pay for our military to fight it and our oil dollars – every time you fill the tank – is turned into the madrasahs that teach terrorists and the money that funds them," said the former governor. "Enough is enough."
The second-tier Republican candidate used a series of Bible references during his speech to the delight of the overwhelming white evangelical crowd. He also firmly reminded voters to not compromise their values to accommodate a candidate they think is more electable.
"Some things are not negotiable – the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, the purpose of our freedom and the opportunity to worship as we please," he said. "Let us never sacrifice our principles for anybody's politics not now, not ever."
In August, Huckabee also came in second to Romney in the Iowa straw poll. His strong showing surprised many people who at the time never even heard of his name. Huckabee had responded positively to his second place win by noting his campaign had few resources to spend on the straw poll (less than $100,000) compared to the millions spent by Romney – a successful entrepreneur who is said to have tens of millions at his disposal to spend on his campaign.
"Romney won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll in August by spending a lot of money," CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said, according to CNN. "We don't know how much of an organizational effort was behind this victory."
Schneider said Romney's true acceptance among conservative Christians will not be clear until the Iowa Republican caucuses in January and the South Carolina Republican Primary. The political analyst also noted Romney's Mormon faith might cause some Christian conservatives to not support him.
The Values Voters straw poll was the highlight of the Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Summit in Washington. More than 2,500 people attended the summit which featured all the Republican presidential candidates. Democratic candidates were also invited but all declined the invitation.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished in third place with 15 percent of the vote, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson finished at a disappointing fourth place with 10 percent despite his initial warm welcome from the audience.
In total, 5,775 votes were cast onsite and online. The least acceptable presidential candidate to values voters is New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (71 percent), followed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (9 percent).