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GOP faithful anoint Mike Huckabee

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By Rick Howell

The story goes that on the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus, who had been persecuting and killing this new breed of people known as "Christians," was himself converted to the religion by a blinding light and a voice that told him he'd soon have a new calling.

God, in other words, chose Paul (Saul?s new name), not vice versa. Mitt Romney, on the road to Washington, D.C. via Des Moines, was also blinded. While it may not have been God speaking to him, it was certainly the voice of a large group of people who sincerely believe that God tells them how to make political choices.

To Mr. Romney they said, "Sorry, governor. But this whole Mormon thing is just too much for us. We'll be anointing your Baptist opponent, Brother Mike Huckabee."

Thus the evangelicals who dominate the national Republican Party spoke in a part of God?s country known as Iowa. They've launched ""Brother Mike" - as many of them likely regard Huckabee - into true front-runner status in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Poor Mitt Romney. He's been blinded and smitten. But he's still a Mormon. His own political conversion, from that of Northeastern, moderate, pro-choice Republican, to fire-breathing "pro-life" champion was apparently not believed by Iowa's GOP faithful.

These religious metaphors work perfectly for the Republican race because, well, religion is the one consistent obsession for many in that party. Not just religion in a general way, but that particular brand of conservative, fundamentalist Christianity that vaults such personal matters as abortion and homosexuality over the real issues: war, health care, and the economy.

It?s possible that by the time you read this, New Hampshire has changed the entire picture. But even if he were to lose in New Hampshire, Mike Huckabee still appears to be the darling of the religious right, and that will make him hard to beat in South Carolina and other places.

What we have to remember, though, is that most of America doesn't think like the religious right. Therefore, many Americans are wondering just how much Huckabee tows the line of the GOP faithful, or how much of it is meant to get the party's nomination.

In fact, Huckabee has given signs that he's different from the typical religionists who follow the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson. He hasn't launched emotional attacks upon the Constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state. He has said that religious freedom means freedom from religion as much as freedom of religion, something that the religious right holds in contempt.

In the final analysis, those who would like to create a right-wing Christian theocracy in America may not ultimately have a friend in Mike Huckabee. Or maybe they do? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Democrats may have found our own "savior," if you will. His name is Barack Obama. In what promises to be a Democratic year, it may not matter who the GOP nominates. But the fact is that the religious right will make that decision, and, for now at least, the anointing oil has been poured upon the head of Brother Mike.

In the GOP, the road to Washington, like the road to Damascus, will be paved by those for whom religion is everything. That's not un-American. But it's not mainstream, either. And that's where Republicans will pay the price in November.

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.