McCain on the Religious Right

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A stray moment from my notebook: Yesterday on the bus with John McCain the talk turned to the evangelical Christian vote in South Carolina.

“The greatest fear of evangelicals is radical Islamic extremism,” McCain told us, focusing on his own national security strengths. Then he corrected himself. “That is their greatest–not fear. That is their greatest concern.”

“More than gay marriage and abortion?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” he said. “They see it as the threat to Judeo-Christian values and principles.”

It is probably a silly exercise to try to force any group of voters to rank their greatest concerns in order. Voters can be very concerned about a lot of things at once. And McCain may very well be right. But it is also true that evangelicals in Iowa didn’t seem to care that their candidate, Mike Huckabee, kept making foreign policy flubs in the week before caucus night.

According to the exit polls, 60 percent of Republican caucus goers in that race were self-described evangelical or born-again believers. Of that group, 46 percent went for Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor. By contrast, McCain did better among people who described themselves as non-evangelical than he did among those who considered themselves evangelical.