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Exit Poll: McCain Still Not Attracting Evangelicals

Josiah Ryan | Staff Writer | Thursday, March 6, 2008

Exit Poll: McCain Still Not Attracting Evangelicals

(CNSNews.com) - Evangelicals sent a strong message in Tuesday's Republican primaries in Texas and Ohio by voting overwhelmingly for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, while almost every other Republican demographic group chose Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), exit polls show.

This was despite the fact McCain had already been dubbed the "presumptive nominee" of the Republican Party by the national media and political pundits. As predicted, Huckabee was soundly defeated in all four of Tuesday's primaries and caucuses and subsequently withdrew from the race.

Some analysts say that if McCain expects to capture evangelical vote in November, he must tailor his approach toward conservatives.

Exit polls provided by MSNBC reveal that the most devout Christians voted for Huckabee in large numbers. In Texas, for example, 60 percent of Christians who attend church more than once a week voted for Huckabee, while only 33 percent voted for McCain. In Ohio, 54 percent of church-goers voted for Huckabee compared with 45 percent who voted for McCain.

"McCain can get that vote in November but he is going to have to work for it," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council told Cybercast News Service." It would be a mistake to assume the conservative vote is just going to gravitate to the Republican nominee."

Perkins of the Family Research Council told Cybercast New Service that McCain must be more proactive in reaching out to conservatives if he expects evangelicals to come out to vote for him in November. "He already has the voting record to back up his claim to be a conservative," Perkins said, "But he has never led on evangelical issues. He is going to have to lead if he wants to get the socially conservative vote."

Perkins said McCain must convince conservatives that their issues are important to him and that he will advance them as president. "Really, it just depends on him, whether he moves towards them and communicate to conservatives that he really cares about them," said Perkins.

Keith Appel, senior vice president of Creative Response Concepts Public Relations, told Cybercast News Service that the exit poll results should tell McCain he must "actively pursue social conservatives. I have a feeling in the coming months he is going to make a substantial outreach to all types of conservatives, and if he does actively run on a commitment to conservative principles, I think he will find enthusiast evangelical support," Appel said.

Scott Skeeter, the director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, told Cybercast News Service that evangelicals will prefer McCain to the Democratic candidate. "It does not appear that McCain is unacceptable to conservative voters. When you offer him to evangelicals against the Democrats, they don't have trouble voting for him rather than Obama," said Keeter. "The real question is, how much enthusiasm is there for John McCain? He needs to stress the things that connect him to that constituency"

The MSNBC exit poll also substantiated the link between evangelical, churchgoing Christians and people who consider themselves to be "very conservative." People who considered themselves to be "very conservative" were the only other group, aside from evangelicals, who voted for Huckabee in significant numbers in Tuesday's contests.

In Texas, 50 percent Republican voters chose the former Baptist minister compared with 38 who voted for McCain; in Ohio, 51 percent of Republicans chose Huckabee compared with 41 percent who voted for McCain.

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