Mike Huckabee is far removed from where he stood this summer: in single digits in Iowa polls and barely registering nationally. Now, less than a month before the caucuses, he leads in Iowa and is in second place in many national polls. A Baptist minister, Huckabee has had his rise credited to his popularity with social conservatives. At home in Little Rock last week, Huckabee spoke by phone with NEWSWEEK's Holly Bailey about the intense focus on his faith—and why he wishes he could talk about something else.
Bailey: You have said you are tired of answering questions about your religion.
Huckabee: It's not that I mind it. But when people think I am a one-dimensional person, I realize they haven't done their homework on me. They've listened to someone else's sound bites. I've been a governor for 10 years, and to have the résumé I've built over that time on education, health care, transportation, the environment and jobs … all that stuff is important and says a lot about what kind of governor I was and what kind of president I would be. It seems like people sometimes overlook that, in favor of plowing the same ground again and again on religious questions.
Aren't you inviting those questions? You've made your faith a central part of your campaign. Your latest ad flashes the words CHRISTIAN LEADER.
There's one slide in that ad that says CHRISTIAN LEADER, which is descriptive. There's another slide that [quotes Time magazine saying] ONE OF AMERICA'S BEST GOVERNORS. How come nobody asks me about that? It's perfectly fair to ask, "What did you mean by [Christian leader]?" because some people have suggested there was something being written into it, but there wasn't.
So "Christian leader" wasn't an attempt to appeal to social conservatives who may have problems with Mitt Romney's faith?
Absolutely not. It was simply a description of my pilgrim job, a Christian leader in a church in a denomination. This is who Mike Huckabee is, where he comes from. It was intended as an introductory ad.
How do you address the concerns of nonbelievers who might have worries about a pastor in the White House?
It would be a pretty sad world that there would be enough religious bigotry that would exclude someone from consideration of public office because of their vocation as a pastor. If I had stepped out of the pulpit last Sunday and said, "I think I'm going to run for president," yeah, then definitely it would be a real issue to drill into. But when I come to the stage with more executive experience running a government than anybody else running for president on the Democrat or Republican side, it takes that off the table. Nobody goes into the depth of a person's vocation quite like this. Again, I don't mind, because if they really take an honest assessment, I think they will say: "Hey, this is interesting. You had a chance to see human life at a level few people ever see it, and it really makes you a deeper and more thoughtful person. You have experiences in administration and dealing with human relationships and understanding the nature of people. It doesn't make you less tolerant, it makes you more tolerant."
You refused this week to talk about Mormonism. Is there a reason you won't talk about it? Is Mormonism a cult, as some evangelicals have suggested?
First of all, I don't think it's appropriate for me to start evaluating other religions. If I answer that question, I'm going to be asked about every religion out there, and then I am playing to the very thing that I am seeking to avoid. The more I answer these questions, the more people want to say, "Ah, you describe yourself as a theologian," or "Oh, you're the one who is setting yourself up as a judge of religions." I am damned if I do; I am damned if I don't. I am happy to talk about my religion, but I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about somebody else's, and part of that is out of conviction. Until I have mastered the art of living my faith, I'm not going to evaluate somebody else's. Our church is very different in that we don't ever focus on that. The motto of the church is taking Jesus as he is to people as they are. So it's really more about: get your own life figured out first, and then don't try to judge and fix somebody else quite yet.
I wanted to follow up on a question you and the other candidates got at the YouTube debate about whether you believe every word in the Bible. Do you believe the Bible is inerrant?
I believe it is. There are some things in the Bible that were clearly intended to be figurative: "If the eye offends thee, go pluck it out." Did Jesus mean that we were supposed to take our fingertips, reach deep into our eye and pull it out if we see something we don't think we should see? Obviously not. "Inerrant" means if you follow the direction of the Bible, it will not lead you into error.
Do you think scriptural revelations from God stopped when the Bible was completed?
I don't have any evidence or indication that he's handed us a new book to add to the ones, the 66, that were canonized in 325 A.D.
How did your faith play a role in dealing with pardons and commutations? You've said that you have to wear two different hats, but your faith must play some role, right?
It does. It doesn't mean that I am soft, and that everybody who has a hard-luck story, I'm just going to turn them loose. [But] I truly tried to look at every case, without regard to the respective person. If there were injustices, I tried to do everything I could to correct them, and for example, there were issues where I felt like African-American males were given harsher sentences, especially for drug crimes, than were upper-middle-class white kids who were arrested for the same thing. My faith affected me there because I don't think you should have two standards of justice—one where upper-middle-class white kids whose fathers can get them an attorney get to go to rehab with no criminal record, and [another where] a poor black kid from a single-parent home gets eight to 10 in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Now, did my faith affect that? I sure hope so. I'd like to think a person without faith would like to see justice equally meted out.