ELECTION 08: Rising Huckabee a target

DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)--Mike Huckabee's rise in the national polls has made the former Arkansas governor a serious contender for the Republican nomination but also has resulted in some of his past comments -- including some spoken to Southern Baptists -- being scrutinized.

Huckabee leads in Iowa and South Carolina -- two early voting states -- and is second nationally in several polls. Although his views have made him a favorite of some social conservatives, those same views now are making national headlines.

The popular news website DrudgeReport.com Dec. 10 ran a picture of Huckabee with a 1998 quote from him saying, "Take this nation back for Christ." That comment came during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual Pastors' Conference, a two-day gathering of pastors where ministers and speakers alike deliver sermons challenging and encouraging pastors. Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, spoke while governor at the event, held that year in Salt Lake City.

"I went to Vacation Bible School for all the wrong reasons -- I was told they'd give me all the cookies I could eat and all the Kool-Aid I could drink," he said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "But that day I got something better than cookies and Kool-Aid. I got the Savior. I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."

He also was quoted as saying, "I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives."

Additionally, comments Huckabee made in 1992 about AIDS patients also have caused controversy. Running for a U.S. Senate seat that year, he wrote, "If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague." He also called homosexuality an "aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle."

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" Dec. 9, Huckabee did not back off his earlier statement but said he probably would have said it "a little differently." He also said when he made the controversial comments he personally knew AIDS patients, including one who was homosexual.

"I didn't say that we should quarantine," he said on the program. "I said it was the first time in public health protocols that when we had an infectious disease and we didn't really know just how extensive and how dramatic it could be ... that we didn't isolate the carrier.

"I had simply made the point, and I still believe this today, that in the late '80s and early '90s, when we didn't know as much as we do now about AIDS, we were acting more out of political correctness than we were about the normal public health protocols that we would have acted -- as we have recently, for example, with avian flu."

CLINTON, OBAMA TRADE SHOTS -- Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent the better part of two days last week trading comments about who was more dedicated to abortion rights -- despite the fact that both of them support Roe v. Wade and have made their pro-choice positions a staple of their campaign.

Clinton criticized Obama for voting simply "present" -- instead of "yes" or "no" -- on seven abortion-related votes when he was an Illinois state senator, the Chicago Sun-Times and Newsday reported. Obama's campaign responded by saying Obama's "present" votes were part of a legislative strategy designed to create compromise, Newsday said. Additionally, Obama said Clinton was absent during the 2006 South Dakota campaign to role back the state's abortion ban, Newsday reported. Obama contributed financially to the successful effort.

POLLS, POLLS, POLLS -- Less than one month before Iowa holds its first-in-the-nation caucuses, both the Democratic and Republican nominations are up in the air, according to the latest polls.

The RealClearPolitics.com average of the most recent seven polls in Iowa (Jan. 3) has Obama leading Clinton by 1.6 percentage points. On the GOP side, Huckabee leads Mitt Romney in the state by 6.2 percentage points in an average of the last seven polls.

In New Hampshire (Jan. 8), a five-poll average has Clinton leading Obama 33.4 percent to 25.4 percent. Among Republicans, Romney has 32.4 percent, followed by John McCain (17.2 percent), Rudy Giuliani (16.2) and Huckabee (11).

In South Carolina, (Jan. 26 for Democrats, Jan. 19 for Republicans), Clinton leads Obama, 33.3 percent to 26.5 percent in a four-poll average. Among Republicans, Huckabee has 21.5 percent, trailed by Giuliani (17.3 percent), Romney (17 percent) and Fred Thompson (15.5 percent).


Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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