God, Oprah and the rising polls

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The recent movement in the polls by two presidential candidates has me cringing, even if I wrote in this space not too long ago that one of these candidates should be the GOP&8217;s standard-bearer.

On one side you have former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican. His roots as a Baptist minister are starting to sound the right tones among mainstream social conservatives. He&8217;s an easy contrast for them when put up against the likes of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

On the other side is Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who has started to make inroads into Sen. Hillary Clinton&8217;s dominate lead for their party&8217;s nomination. But Obama&8217;s latest bump is coming from the power of Oprah, whose influence over mainstream culture has been felt in television and book clubs for decades.

So why the cringing? Because the popularity for these two seems hollow, and that makes no sense to me since we&8217;re talking about electing the President of the United States (not to mention the defacto &8220;leader of the free world&8221;).

In Huckabee&8217;s case, it is easier to swallow. He&8217;s starting to attract voters because of his message: he&8217;s a tried, true social conservative. End of story.

Right? Wrong.

While Huckabee is a tried and true social conservative, he&8217;s more than that. This is coming from someone who most likely will not vote for the man if he makes it to the general election.

I&8217;ve met Huckabee. I respect what he did in Arkansas, some for which he&8217;s being called a liberal. He put politics aside and pushed through some truly meaningful social programs that helped his state, which &8212; much like Alabama &8212; has its share of poor and indigent people and is dealing with a growing immigrant population.

Granted, the first reason Huckabee makes sense as the GOP standard-bearer is that he&8217;s a social conservative while his counterparts are Johnny&8217;s-come-lately to the social conservative movement.

But to vote for someone based solely on that is foolish. Look at President Bush. He towed the Christian conservative line through two campaigns, but save two Supreme Court nominees (and don&8217;t forget the Harriet Myers debacle, mind you) he has delivered very little.

In fact, a

piece a few weeks ago quoted several former prominent Christian Coalition leaders as placing the blame solely at the president&8217;s feet for their dwindling influence in national politics. That dwindling influence can be no more evident than in the mid-term elections where Democrats booted out Republicans in both chambers of Congress.

If Republican voters think that being a social conservative is enough to get someone elected, they better check the polls on Iraq, immigration and the economy. Those are the issues next year, not gay marriage and abortion.

As for Obama, his rise in popularity is dumfounding for me. The fact that one person &8212; even someone with the humanitarian record of Oprah Winfrey &8212; could stand up and endorse him and cause a measurable degree of movement in the polls makes me want to scream.

Obama seems to be an intelligent, passionate senator. He has some good ideas (though none too far off from Hillary&8217;s positions on most things). And he has spent months taking his message to the streets.

His political strategy has been ingenious. He had volunteers canvassing beauty salons and restaurants to help garner support. His fund-raising efforts have surprised all from the beginning.

In short, Obama has done everything a politician should do to be the front-runner, but he remained behind Clinton by double-digit margins.

That is until Oprah spoke. Now he has cut that margin in half by most pollster accounts. Absolutely amazing.

It&8217;s not that I&8217;m a Clinton fan (which I am) and that I&8217;m upset because her lead is shrinking. It&8217;s my hope that this new insurgency from Obama will make her refocus her campaign and return to her (and her husband&8217;s) political campaigning roots. When she (they) is on, she (they) is unstoppable.

So why the cringe over Obama? Because he&8217;s done everything right and issue poll after issue poll reveals on thing: people don&8217;t think he has the experience to lead the country during this difficult time.

In fact, there is only one candidate in the entire field &8212; Republican and Democrat &8212; who consistently has above 60 percent positive reaction to the experience question. (Yes, it&8217;s my girl, Hillary.)

Choosing a candidate based on a single issue or the word of a single celebrity is ludicrous to me. It defies all logic. It reminds me of a friend of mine who said they were going to vote for George W. Bush instead of Al Gore because, &8220;Bush seems like the kind of guy I&8217;d like to have a beer with.&8221;

Let me tell you, I can&8217;t think of a single one of my &8220;drinking buddies&8221; I&8217;d like running the free world.

Huckabee is a solid candidate. In this humble writer&8217;s opinion, he has the best credentials for the GOP come general election time. He will make sure the national debate is solidly along clearly defined lines.

As for Obama, he&8217;s not a bad candidate in my opinion. He&8217;s a good one. In fact, he would probably make a thoughtful and honest president. But to win because of Oprah just seems to cheapen our entire system.

In the end, God and Oprah are in the driver&8217;s seat right now. The sad part is we don&8217;t know who wins.

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to sam.hall@demopolistimes.com.