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Huckabee charmed his congregations, Baptist minister used TV to his advantage
The Concord Monitor ^ | Nov 25, 2007 | MELANIE ASMAR

Posted on 11/25/2007 9:25:41 AM PST by dano1

Mike Huckabee was never about fire and brimstone. As a preacher, he was buoyant. The first time he took to the pulpit, as a 16-year-old preaching on a Sunday night, he turned water into wine. Sort of.

"He had a clear bottle of water, a gallon jug of water, and he turned it red," said Don Still, who grew up with Huckabee in the small city of Hope, Ark. "He talked about how God cleanses our soul. He was probably in the 11th or 12th grade, and he was probably taking chemistry and learned it in chemistry."

Science or miracle, Still was impressed. Looking back now, Still said he knew then that Huckabee - or Mike, as he seems to be known to everyone in Arkansas - was destined for politics, "a born leader."

Huckabee himself said he'd thought about becoming a politician since he was a boy. But he gave up that notion when he became a Baptist preacher.

"I couldn't see, in my mind, any pathway from the pastorate to political office," said Huckabee, who began preaching full time when he was 25. His outlook changed when, at age 34, he was elected the youngest-ever president of the Arkansas State Baptist Convention, a position he says helped launch his political career.

Still, some churchgoers said they were surprised when Huckabee announced in 1992 that he was leaving the church after 12 years to run for office. He was such a great preacher, they said.

But the same skills that made him memorable in the pulpit helped him succeed in politics: He could deliver a heavy moral message in such a light, folksy way that you didn't even notice the proselytizing. He remembered everyone's name. And he had a way of winning support for his good ideas by making the deacons think the ideas were their own.

"He was an intelligent and communicative kind of guy that understood people and how to deal with them," said David Beaty, a retired electronics store manager and a senior deacon at Beech Street First Baptist Church in Texarkana, Ark., where Huckabee was pastor in the 1980s and '90s.

Now, after 10½ years as the Republican governor of Democrat-heavy Arkansas, Huckabee, 52, is attempting to parlay his charm into a bid for the Republican presidential nomination that's gaining momentum and attention, if not money.

Some critics warn against painting Huckabee in such a simplistic light. They say that beneath the dimples and guffaws is a politically savvy conservative who's not immune to the pitfalls of politics.

But the digs don't matter to those who knew Huckabee when he was the head of a couple of small churches in southern Arkansas. They saw him become the leader of the state. And now, former congregants such as David Haak, a store owner from Texarkana, have their eye on bigger things.

After Huckabee was elected lieutenant governor in 1993, "several of us friends were up at the (governor's) mansion in Little Rock and a number were saying, 'I want to spend a night in the mansion,' " Haak said. "I said, 'I want to spend a night in the Lincoln bedroom.' "

'A good life'

Huckabee's beginnings were modest. He was born Aug. 24, 1955, in the same city as Bill Clinton. The son of a firefighter and an office assistant, Huckabee describes his childhood in his 2007 book From Hope to Higher Ground as idyllic: The city of fewer than 9,000 was close-knit and you could ride your bike after dark.

"We lived a block or two from downtown Hope, which was a tiny place," said Huckabee's older sister, Patricia Harris, who's a schoolteacher in Arkansas. "You could walk down there in the summer and there was a free (movie) show on Wednesday afternoon. . . . It was a good life."

Huckabee wasn't poor, but he wasn't rich, either. To make extra money, his father rebuilt car generators. Huckabee says he started each elementary school year with two pairs of blue jeans; by the summer, they'd be cut into shorts. At 18, he became the first male in his family to graduate high school.

Even then, people in Hope could see that Huckabee had talent. He had been president of the student council and, like Clinton, was elected governor of Arkansas Boys' State, a leadership training ground.

"People had spotted him as maybe a lawyer or a politician," Harris said. "But when the call (to preach) came, he just knew this is what he was going to do. I remember people telling my parents he had such a promising career, and why would he throw it all away to become a preacher?"

Instead of heading to a more prestigious college, Huckabee went to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. His roommate remembers Huckabee's sense of calling.

"He was very serious about his faith, but he was also a fun guy to be around," said Rick Caldwell, who shared a room with Huckabee freshman year. "He was never a religious stick in the mud."

In college, Huckabee was organized and driven, finishing in just over two years. He worked afternoons at a local radio station, something he'd done since he was 14, and pastored a tiny Baptist church to help pay his tuition. That spring, he married his high school sweetheart, 18-year-old Janet McCain.

Caldwell recalled Huckabee's early political ambitions.

"We used to sit in the dorm room and talk about what we wanted to do, around our popcorn popper," he said. "He said, 'What I'd like to do is help Christian people get involved in making our nation better.' "

But Huckabee's first stump speech would have to wait. After working in Christian communications for a few years after college, Huckabee was asked to head Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Ark.

Diving into the community

Pine Bluff is a city of about 55,000 in the heart of the Arkansas River basin. Dubbed the "bass capital of the world," its biggest employer is Tyson Foods. It's also home to more than 250 churches, one of them Immanuel Baptist. Soon after arriving in 1980, Huckabee dove into the community.

"Everybody knew Mike Huckabee," said Dewayne Tanton, director of the Harmony Baptist Association, an organization of area churches. "He meant a whole lot to Pine Bluff while he was here."

Television was a big reason why. In both Pine Bluff and Texarkana, where Huckabee went to preach in 1986, he hosted a show called Positive Alternatives. In Pine Bluff, it was a 30-minute weekly spot that focused on community events. It aired on the church's station, Channel 65, "The Channel with a Heart."

Huckabee was comfortable on camera and made others feel the same.

"He made you feel better about yourself," Tanton said. "On the show, he interviewed different churches. Any pastor could come on . . . and talk about upcoming programs. If it was the Christmas musical, he'd ask what musical you were doing, who wrote it, how many are in the choir."

But the show wasn't all religious. It also covered the local Little League, and it featured cancer telethons and events at the mayor's office. Huckabee believed that being a good Christian meant more than just going to Bible study, congregants said. It meant taking your kids to ball games and the county fair.

That message was so important to Huckabee that when Beech Street First Baptist Church in Texarkana asked him to pastor there, he insisted on starting another television station.

"When he got here, he just made it happen," said Burns Barr, the station's director. "There was no obstacle he couldn't overcome. If you told him, 'We can't do this; we need $100,000,' he'd come up with $100,000."

Eventually, the people of Texarkana, a city of less than 30,000, embraced Huckabee as their own.

"There were people all over town who referred to him and thought of him as their pastor, but they'd never set foot in the church proper," said Harris, who lived there at the time. "But if they had a death in the family or if their son went to jail, they'd call Mike because he was the only preacher they knew."

'The Big Three of '88'

The television station was perhaps Huckabee's biggest legacy as pastor, but it wasn't the only thing he accomplished. In Texarkana, church members still talk about "The Big Three of '88." In January, Huckabee launched the station. In March, on the steps of the Texarkana courthouse, he bought a funeral home at auction for $397,000 and turned it into the church administration building. And in July, he dedicated the church's new family activity center, something the last pastor hadn't seen to fruition.

"If you could have a perfect pastor, he comes as close as anybody," said Charles Decker Barnette, the church's historian. "He rejuvenated the church. He blew the back doors, really, off the church."

Beech Street First Baptist Church was built in 1906, a big white building with columns and a dome that, if it were up North, could easily be mistaken for a courthouse. It was sandwiched between Methodist and Presbyterian churches and surrounded by stately old homes. Barnette said local politicians used to pose for pictures on the church's steps in hopes that people would think they were at the capitol.

Huckabee was 31, the father of three young children, when he arrived. The church's leaders had heard him preach and liked his style: vivacious, conversational, down-to-earth. Haak, a deacon, said they were also looking for someone young who could breathe life into the well-established church.

But there were challenges. Beech Street was a "white-collar church," Haak said, where the congregation was made up of managers, owners and company presidents. It wasn't the kind of church where a pastor could give orders. If Huckabee was to get anything done, he would have to build consensus.

"He had the vision, but you've got to sell the vision," Haak said. "And he was able to do that. People caught on and said, 'This is a great idea! This is my idea!' If you use a stick, the horse is going to kick you with its hooves. (Huckabee) was very good with the carrot approach in selling (his ideas)."

More and more people started coming to Beech Street. Haak and others attribute the surge in membership partly to the TV station, which was broadcast citywide, and partly to Huckabee himself.

"He's a very good communicator," said Barr, who was a non-practicing Methodist when he met Huckabee. "People's Christian walk is kind of like going to school. Some people are in kindergarten and some people are getting their master's. Mike was able to speak to all those types of people."

His sermons were full of personal stories that often had a moral message at their core. If he told a story about the time his son accidentally baked a cake with a cup of salt, it was to point out that people need specific guidelines by which to live their lives - or the results can be inedible and disastrous.

"He believes in what he says, and he lives what he says," said Katy Elkins, a former congregant and librarian at the local Texarkana college. She has kept track of Huckabee's political career in dozens of three-ring binders full of newspaper clippings. "He's just friendly, and people connect with him."

Sherri Burton, a housewife who's gone to Beech Street all her life, remembers the day Huckabee came to Texarkana. It was the day she gave birth to her youngest son, Jonathan, who's now 21. Huckabee, she said, would always joke that two great men came to Texarkana on the same day.

"Everybody just liked being around him," Burton said. "His spirit got people involved."

The moderates' pick

In 1989, Huckabee became the youngest-ever president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, an organization nearly 500,000 strong. The process was a political one, but Huckabee didn't nominate himself for the job.

"Several people came to me and said we'd really like to put your name in" for president, Huckabee said. "At first I was reluctant. It was a controversial time in Southern Baptist life. But they said, 'We feel you could bring some healing.' . . . People did not see me as being particularly angry or divisive, and that's what they were trying to avoid."

The controversy was a nationwide philosophical split among Baptists. Conservatives felt pastors should more strongly lead their flocks. Moderates felt the flock need only answer to Scripture. After some behind-the-scenes politicking, Huckabee emerged as the candidate of the moderates.

"Huckabee was not a moderate," said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University who attended the 1989 convention, where he voted for president as a messenger from his church. "But Huckabee was the choice of the moderates against a much more strident conservative."

Huckabee's opponent was Ronnie Floyd, the pastor of the largest church in Arkansas. The protocol is that neither candidate speaks at the convention, letting others make speeches on their behalf.

In the end, Huckabee beat Floyd two-to-one.

"Church people like to think that God raises people up or causes people to be in positions," said Jim Lagrone, an Arkansas preacher and former president of the convention who recently lost a bid for secretary of state. "The reality is, (the president) is a good pastor and is active around the state."

But the position is largely ceremonial. The president is often invited to speak at churches around the state, but other than that, his biggest job is to appoint committee members. Presidents in the past have used that power to advance their personal agendas, but no one remembers Huckabee doing that.

"I got the impression that Huckabee didn't make a lot of waves with his presidency," Bass said.

However, it did put him on the political radar screen.

"It was during that time that people started coming to me and saying, 'Did you ever think about running for office and being in politics?' " Huckabee said. "The answer was yes, but they didn't know that at the time."

The presidency also gave him lots of visibility and contacts. Analysts say the name recognition he gained with one of the biggest voting blocs in Arkansas probably helped him when he ran for U.S. Senate in 1992.

"The predominant religious faith (in Arkansas) is Baptist, so being president of the convention gives you some publicity," said Doug Reed, the director of the Maddox Public Affairs Center at Ouachita.

But it was more than just familiarity that led to Huckabee's eventual political success. It also had something to do with the inability of the Democratic Party to muster a candidate strong enough to beat him. To hear Reed tell it, the Democrats who had long dominated Arkansas politics had no farm team.

In the early 1990s, Arkansas had a popular Democratic governor - Clinton - and two popular Democratic senators, David Pryor and Dale Bumpers. No Democrat had dared challenge them for years, and so a generation of political talent had languished. Cue Huckabee.

Moving on

It was a regular Sunday in January 1992 when Huckabee told his congregants that he was leaving the church for politics. In his 2007 book Character Makes a Difference, Huckabee says he had grown increasingly frustrated with church life. He'd lost the idealism that marked his earlier days as a pastor.

"In my early years of ministry, I was quite idealistic, thinking that most people in the congregation expected me to be the captain of a warship leading God's troops into battle," Huckabee said. "As the years passed, I became increasingly convinced that most people wanted me to captain the Love Boat.

"Too many people seemed unconcerned about how many marriages were salvaged, how many kids got off drugs, or how many teen pregnancies were prevented," he said. "Rather, the chief concerns seemed to be whether the menus for Wednesday night dinners were appetizing, what color the softball jerseys would be, how loud some guest musicians might sing, whether the coffeepot was ready in the Sunday school building, and whether there were paper towels in the women's rest room."

Barnette, Beech Street's historian, knows the Love Boat quote well. He said he, for one, wasn't offended; he thinks Huckabee made a good point. But not everyone at the church felt the same, he said.

"Some said, 'I wish he hadn't written it that way,' " he said. "Everything he does causes a splash."

It certainly caused a splash - at least among church members - when Huckabee announced that he planned to challenge Bumpers. First of all, Bumpers was a three-term senator, a state institution. Second, and more importantly, politics were supposed to be separate from church.

"A lot of people were shocked," said Burton, who was in church that day. "People were hurt."

But those who knew Huckabee well were neither.

"To me, he was always destined to do this," said Harris, his sister. "I feel like the Lord said, 'You have been my good and faithful servant and now we're going to change directions.' "

Huckabee lost that first Senate race to Bumpers. But he won a race for lieutenant governor a year later when then-Gov. Clinton was elected president and Lt. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker took over for him. Three years later, Tucker was indicted in the Whitewater scandal and Huckabee became governor.

Huckabee remained governor until this year, leaving behind a record of both successes and blemishes. He helped turn around Arkansas's poor education system. He also supported the release of a convicted Arkansas rapist who, upon his release, killed a woman in Missouri and then died in prison.

Through it all, the people who knew Huckabee before he was a politician have largely stuck by him. Through the mud-slinging, through the attack ads, through the scathing newspaper editorials.

When asked why, many give the same answer: God has led Brother Mike down this path.

"When we were young, people would say, 'That boy's going to be president some day,' and you think, 'Yeah, right, and I'll be the next Miss America,' " Harris said. "But then you just kind of watch things and you say: Best communicator? He wins. Best message? He wins. Least money? He wins that one, too. . . . But if it's meant to be, it's going to happen and it's going to blow people away.

"And if it doesn't," Harris said, "then I know his heart well enough that I know he's doing exactly what God wants him to be doing right now. Win or lose, he's doing exactly what he's supposed to."

TOPICS: Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: huckabee; pastor; slickmeister2
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1 posted on 11/25/2007 9:25:43 AM PST by dano1
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To: dano1
"If you could have a perfect pastor, he comes as close as anybody," said Charles Decker Barnette, the church's historian. "He rejuvenated the church. He blew the back doors, really, off the church."
2 posted on 11/25/2007 9:26:09 AM PST by dano1
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To: All
Politico | October 14, 2007 | Jonathan Martin

"Social conservatives can stop looking for their perfect presidential candidate. There is one Republican who, given his credentials, would appear the likeliest to rally evangelicals and others on the Christian right."

"He is resolutely anti-abortion, supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and is a man of deep faith. He has been elected — and reelected — to statewide office in a Democratic-leaning state."

"And he’s right under their noses: Mike Huckabee."

3 posted on 11/25/2007 9:28:24 AM PST by dano1
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To: dano1
I think it’s about time that we number you huckster lies and that way it would save a lot of time and space. You could post, hucksters lie number 10. hucksters lie number 12 an so forth. Everyone has stopped reading the BS from the paid posters.
4 posted on 11/25/2007 9:35:14 AM PST by org.whodat (What's the difference between a Democrat and a republican????)
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To: org.whodat

Org.whodat, you should read this article!

5 posted on 11/25/2007 9:37:01 AM PST by dano1
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To: dano1
Christian conservatives beware! Huckabee is a FALSE PROPHET! He's another slick politician and governor from Hope, Arkansas.
6 posted on 11/25/2007 9:39:00 AM PST by dit_xi (Duncan Hunter: No nose holding necessary come election day. Right on every issue, right every time)
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To: dano1
I would love to see some demographics of Huckabee supporters. My 17 year old son (who will vote in his first election)and his friends loves Huckabee.

He claims that it was his appearance on The Cobert show that made up his mind. And then the Chuck Norris endorsement sealed the deal.

7 posted on 11/25/2007 9:39:42 AM PST by codercpc
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To: dit_xi

Is he from Hope? That’s all we need is another President from Hope. We didn’t do so well with the first one.

8 posted on 11/25/2007 9:41:36 AM PST by freekitty ((May the eagles long fly our beautiful and free American sky.))
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To: dit_xi
I know Mike Huckabee, and I believe that you are treading on dangerous ground calling him a FALSE PROPHET!

Disagree with his politics, but not with his theology.

9 posted on 11/25/2007 9:42:20 AM PST by Coldwater Creek
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To: dano1

I am normally a straight ticket Republican voter. But I agree with Jonah Goldberg about Mike Huckabee. He scares me a lot more than Ron Paul. I really hope he’s not on the Republican ticket in 2008.

10 posted on 11/25/2007 9:44:55 AM PST by devere
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To: dano1

It sure doesn’t take long for the Huck haters to come out of the woodwork!

11 posted on 11/25/2007 9:58:44 AM PST by andyk (Go Matt Kenseth!)
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To: andyk; Coldwater Creek

People should really read this article. IMHO, Coldwater Creek got it right. One can disagree with his politics, but it certainly appears that Huckabee is clearly a decent person.

12 posted on 11/25/2007 10:02:58 AM PST by dano1
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To: devere
I am normally a straight ticket Republican voter...He scares me a lot more than Ron Paul

LOL! Welcome to the FR. Which campaign are you working for?
13 posted on 11/25/2007 10:04:29 AM PST by andyk (Go Matt Kenseth!)
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To: dano1; xzins; 1000 silverlings; Alex Murphy; Gamecock; Frumanchu; HarleyD; wmfights; ...
But if it's meant to be, it's going to happen and it's going to blow people away.

"And if it doesn't," Harris said, "then I know his heart well enough that I know he's doing exactly what God wants him to be doing right now. Win or lose, he's doing exactly what he's supposed to."

Nice article.

14 posted on 11/25/2007 10:05:22 AM PST by Dr. Eckleburg ("I don't think they want my respect; I think they want my submission." - Flemming Rose)
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To: dano1
"He had a clear bottle of water, a gallon jug of water, and he turned it red," said Don Still, who grew up with Huckabee in the small city of Hope, Ark. "He talked about how God cleanses our soul.

We must have different Bibles, I can't find any of the above Written or even close to what Christ's first miracle represented. More like a side show.

15 posted on 11/25/2007 10:08:24 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: freekitty

Yup, he’s from Hope. Not that there ain’t good folks from Hope, but it only takes one rotten apple. Know what I mean?

16 posted on 11/25/2007 10:09:57 AM PST by dit_xi (Duncan Hunter: No nose holding necessary come election day. Right on every issue, right every time)
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To: TigersEye

Sigh....the more I read about this Huckabee the more I want HUNTER.

17 posted on 11/25/2007 10:25:53 AM PST by pandoraou812 ( Its NOT for the good of the children! Its BS along with bending over for Muslim's demands)
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To: dit_xi

You could say the same about the canadiate from Tenn. (Al Gore and the Ford’s being the bad apples.)

18 posted on 11/25/2007 10:37:59 AM PST by Coldwater Creek
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To: freekitty

“That’s all we need is another President from Hope.”

He’s also another “compassionate conservative”. Isn’t that great? No, it certainly is not.

19 posted on 11/25/2007 10:40:08 AM PST by devere
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To: dano1

Bud Light presents: "REAL MEN OF GENIUS"

(Real men of genius)

Today we salute you, Mr. Mike Huckabee paid FR campaign shill!

(Mr. Mike Huckabee paid FR campaign shill)

What does a liberal Republican do when he is afraid to face grass roots conservatives himself? He pays his coffee and errand boy minimum wage to do it for him...

(skim milk with three sweet and lows)

Scanning the information superhighway you search Conservative websites like the NY Times, Washington Post, Salon and Daily Kos looking for favorable articles about the Huckster to post on FR

(oooh, here's one from DU!)

Armed with nothing but talking points from your candidates' website, you attempt to convince conservatives that your candidate is not a Christian socialist or a pro-life Democrat...

(Jesus would want amnesty for illegals)

When FReepers say Huck is a fiscal liberal, algore loving environmental wacko, open border amnesty pusher, nanny state smoker banner you provide the brilliant original response...a link to his campaign website

(copy, paste, copy, paste)

Conservatives? We don't need no stinkin' Conservatives!

(Highly overrated)

All we need is a leftist who is pro-life, has an R next to his name, and talks about Jesus.

(Praise the Lord!)

So crack open an ice cold Bud Light, oh Karl Rove of the blogosphere, because when a FReeper runs for office, we'll be calling you...

(Mr. Mike Huckabee paid FR campaign shill)

Bud Light beer. Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri.

20 posted on 11/25/2007 10:48:49 AM PST by Eric Blair 2084 (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms shouldn't be a federal should be a convenience store.)
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