Pence Out, Hunstman In (Possibly): Whom Do Evangelicals Like?
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) announced last week that he will not run in next year's Republican presidential primaries, leaving an opening for other candidates to court social conservatives. Pence may not be a household name, but he is well-regarded among conservative activists.
Pence had the potential to be the Dennis Kucinich of the GOP—a black-horse candidate who could poll well among the ideological base of the party. Pence edged out Mike Huckabee and handily beat Mitt Romney (13 percent) and Sarah Palin (7 percent) in the 2010 Values Voter Summit straw poll.
In a recent Rasmussen poll, likely Republican primary voters gave more support to Romney (24 percent) than to either Huckabee (17 percent) or Palin (19 percent). Among evangelicals, however, Romney came in third. Other polls show likely voters are split between Romney and Huckabee, with each polling around 20 percent of likely voters. About 15 percent say they will support Palin.
In an open memo to "conservative and evangelical leaders," Mark DeMoss, of the Christian public relations firm The DeMoss Group, said that all of the potential candidates for the Republican nomination pass the traditional litmus tests on abortion and marriage. DeMoss offered a new litmust test: "A candidate for president of the United States should be capable of becoming president, and then competent to be the president." For DeMoss, the candidate that passes that test is Mitt Romney.
"Those who would suggest I am placing values on the back burner will be misreading me and wrong. I am only saying that a candidate's values alone are not enough to get my vote. For example, my pastor shares my values, but I don't want him to be my president," wrote DeMoss.
DeMoss's memo highlights the challenges facing Romney. His base is the business sector, not values voters. He can raise millions of dollars, but he does not have the support of the activists on the ground.
Groups such as Focus on the Family have been critical of Romney in the past. In 2008, they lobbied Romney, who sat on the board of Marriott International, to have the hotel chain stop providing adult pay-per-view movies in their hotels.
Last week, Marriott announced it would stop providing adult movie services. Romney did not vote on the Marriott decision, however, because he recently stepped down from the board. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told the Washington Post that Romney recused himself from discussions over the adult movie policy.
Some are suspicious of Romney's Mormon faith. A survey in 2008 found that 25 percent of Americans would be upset if a Mormon was elected president. In contrast, 15 percent said they would be upset with a Baptist being president.
There may be another prominent Mormon to consider in the 2012 presidential race. Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. Ambassador to China, resigned in order to consider a presidential campaign.
Huntsman is former Governor of Utah and son of billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr., who founded the Huntsman Corporation. Huntsman, like Romney, holds traditional views on social issues, but his base would likely be among business leaders.