The Fringe, Part 5
Presidential candidates you've never heard of.
Updated Friday, Oct. 26, 2007, at 6:05 PM
Straw man: Yes, Mitt Romney technically "won" the straw poll of social conservatives this weekend. But it's hard to look at his victory as anything but Pyrrhic: He barely beat out Mike Huckabee in the overall tally, which included online voting as far back as August, while Huckabee utterly trounced Romney among the conference attendees, 51 percent to 10 percent.
Why the disparity? The Romney campaign's battle tactics partially explain it—they encouraged supporters to vote online. But the candidates' speeches no doubt made a difference, too.
Romney's speech was, well, a Romney speech—eloquent, enthusiastic, utterly antiseptic. When it came time to address his religion, he punted with a one-off joke: "I imagine one or two of you have heard I'm Mormon," he said. If you're one of the people who says you wouldn't vote for a Mormon, "I imagine that's because you've listened to Harry Reid." The line went over awkwardly, and he didn't mention his religion again.
Huckabee's speech, meanwhile, was a Huckabee speech, but better. The former Baptist minister made it clear he wasn't just from the Christian community, but of it. He dinged Romney for trying to play Christian: "People need to sing from their hearts, rather than lip sync the lyrics to our songs." He said he puts religion before politics: "I do not spell G-O-D 'G-O-P.' " The self-effacing charmer gave way to the pulpit preacher, and somehow it didn't sound forced.
It's hard to call Huckabee a threat—and not just because he seems about as menacing as an ice cream cone. He still places fourth in Iowa polls, and even lower nationally. But he could well start chipping away at Romney's lead. Whereas Rudy Giuliani might not even need the evangelical vote—he's polling just fine in the states that matter to him—Romney does. Roughly 35 percent of Republican Iowa caucus goers are evangelical Christians. If this weekend's straw poll is any indication, Huckabee is gaining ground with them. A few more speeches like Saturday's, some skillful ground organization in Iowa, and his horse could start looking a shade lighter.
Poetry slam: Love thy neighbor—except when you can ding him with a great one-liner. That seemed to be the 11th commandment of last week's Values Voter Summit, which featured, along with odes to God and country, a few juicy slams (at least by Sunday school standards). Here's a sampling:
WSJ editor John Fund on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: "You can wade through their deepest thoughts without getting your ankles wet."
National Review editor Rich Lowry on Hillary Clinton: "We put our 'Run, Hillary, Run!' bumper stickers on the front of our cars."
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.
Photographs of: Cap Fendig courtesy Cap Fendig; screenshot of The Huffington Post.