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by Rev. Rob Schenck
01/21/08 2008


By Rev. Rob Schenck

In an effort to get a close-up analysis of the presidential candidates, their platforms and campaign operations, I’ve bounced around the country over the last few weeks following their frenetic itineraries. My stops included Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina, not to mention meetings here in Washington.

So far I’ve been face-to-face with Mitt Romney, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. My colleague Pat Mahoney went one-on-one with Hillary Clinton and I’ve talked at length with her top campaign advisors. (Pat and I also met at length with Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party and a former presidential candidate himself.) While I haven’t yet met Barack Obama, our long-time friend and ministry associate, Johnny Hunter of the Life, Education and Resource Network, America’s largest and fastest growing African-American pro-life group, has had an extended personal encounter with him. And finally, my own brother, Paul, had a substantial conversation with Dennis Kucinich. Needless to say we know candidate Alan Keyes very well, so no additional exploration required with him.

All this has given me a much better look and appreciation for who these people are and what they stand for. Just as important is to discover who surrounds them. The candidates are known—at least in part—by the company they keep, and learning about that company has been quite revealing. So here’s my assessment of the ones that in my estimation are still in the game. Keep in mind, it’s early; there’s a lot more to learn and plenty of time for things to change.

(Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.)

Hillary Clinton: It may shock you, but I’m actually impressed with the people I’ve met who surround Hillary. Don’t get me wrong, I disagree profoundly with them and her on the sanctity of life, marriage and the family and public acknowledgment of God. These are for me non-negotiable. But as far as the professional skills and accomplishments of her top-level advisors, they are significant. It’s also my opinion that Hillary has moved quite dramatically to a more conservative position on many of the issues. (Still, that’s a relative statement. At one point in her political life, Hillary was so far left she was off the screen.) What I find disturbing about Hillary’s campaign is that she would clearly end up drafting many of her husband Bill’s people back into the White House, not to mention the “First Man” himself. By the way, Bill would still be “President Clinton,” as he retains the title for life. So, a Hillary win would mean we get “President and President Clinton.” That’s a little scary given our experience during the first Clinton years. Most people never knew about the secret grand juries that terrorized peaceful pro-life people, pastors and Christian ministry leaders. I’ve rarely told the story of my own detention by the Secret Service at Clinton’s order—twice. Yet, we’re ready for anything. If the country chooses Hillary, so be it. May God spare us in His mercy, but if she’s elected, we’re battle-tested and ready for anything!

Rudy Giuliani seems to be out of the question for people of deep moral conviction. He has been characterized—and has a pretty good history of being—pro-abortion, pro-homosexual marriage and non-religious if not anti-religious. The people I know who have met the people around Rudy describe them as simply scary. I don’t know that personally so you’ll have to judge it for yourself. That’s all I can say since I haven’t had any direct or indirect contact with the candidate or the campaign.

Mike Huckabee: As I wrote in my blog (see post for 01.19.08), Huck’s the real deal on spirituality. He is what he appears to be: sincere, warm, deeply spiritual and, well, for lack of a better descriptor, pastoral. He reminds me of all those fine Baptist pastors I’ve been with over 25 years of itinerant preaching. As far as I could tell, the vast majority of those in his inner circle are born-again Christians. Many are actively engaged in ministry. Christian home school families play a critical role in everything. Mike Ferris of the Home School Legal Defense Fund is a principal endorser. As a gifted preacher he is also an exquisite orator, a trait not lost on the secular media. He winsomely engages his audiences and even his detractors. The unanswered question is whether the team he has can sustain the brutal contest of a national campaign. Let’s face it, Arkansas isn’t Florida or New York or Ohio or Illinois. His loss in South Carolina to John McCain is a bad omen. It suggests he’s just not up to it. Of course, he had the “Fred” factor, which likely won’t repeat as Thompson is expected to drop out of the race soon. But, if Fred has made a secret pact with McCain for second place on the ticket, the Southern Gentleman could continue his assault on Mike. Is Mike’s team up to it? I can’t say, but my impression is no. If you’re for Mike, you better pray, give and get involved, or he won’t make it past Super Tuesday.

Alan Keyes: I’ve known Alan for a long time. I’ve traveled the country with him. I’ve seen him in good times and bad, public and private. What you see is what you get. There’s nothing hidden with Alan. Best I can do is refer you to his website and say it’s true, I deeply appreciate, admire and love Alan in the Lord. He’s gracious, generous, brilliant and one-in-a-million—make that a gazillion. That’s not an endorsement, just my personal sentiments. The big question is whether his bootstrap organization can withstand the race and whether the Republican establishment will ever respect him. I doubt either. Still, check him out. Miracles do happen.

Dennis Kucinich is an amusing man. He’s actually very congenial, approachable and “blue-collar” friendly. He doesn’t act like a celebrity and is earnest in his beliefs, even if they are bizarre and quaintly 60’s radical. I keep expecting him to show up at a campaign event festooned in tie-died shirts, frayed blue jeans and flowers in his hair. If he was a serious contender, I’d be quite concerned about his ultra-secularist worldview and New Age “First Lady.” (Please read the profile on Elizabeth Kucinich at,2933,274035,00.html.) Alas, he is, even for the Democrats, a sideshow. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about here except the numbers of young people being seduced into his neo-pagan movement. Still, some would prefer Kucinich to Hillary or Obama. The only insider we’ve encountered is Lord of the Rings film star Viggo Mortensen ( I don’t know what that tells us except that perhaps Kucinich stands a better chance being elected Viceroy of Gondor than president of the United States.

John McCain is a strong contender (for anything) and a true contrarian. He’s always seemed to me to be the kind of guy I once served with on an organization’s board of directors. When this guy was elected he said, “As long as I’m on this board there’ll never be a unanimous decision.” I get the impression that John McCain is against many things just because others are for them. My two personal encounters with the Senator have been unpleasant. In the first instance I was present for a ceremony in which he received a high honor. He was cordial enough, but his then 94-year old mother, Roberta, went ballistic on me after learning I was a minister on Capitol Hill. (BTW, she’s still going strong campaigning for he son.) After exchanging light-hearted niceties, she asked me what I do. When I told her, she immediately demanded to know, “Do you convert people?” I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I faltered a bit venturing an answer. As I stuttered she pronounced, “Well, I’m a heathen, convert me.” She wasn’t being funny. It was getting ugly. At that point her twin sister Rowena had to peal her away. It was wild! In any case, I only mention it because at that moment I “got” John McCain. He wrote in his book Faith of My Fathers, “"I became my mother's son.” Boy, has he ever.  On another occasion I got the full force of Roberta’s doppelganger when I privately asked the Senator about civil unions. “Moral or immoral?” I inquired. His response was a scolding finger and an exassberated pronouncement hissed between his clenched teeth, “That depends on what you mean by civil unions!” Not the unequivocal statement I was looking for. No one can argue with McCain’s selfless and noble sacrifice in willingly enduring unspeakable horror in a Vietnamese POW camp. His dedication to country is anasailable. He may even be the strongest personality to go up against Hillary Clinton, should she be the Democrat nominee. (Another anger management problem.) But whether the country is looking for such a crusty, explosive personality, I don’t know. He’s a Bob Dole redux, and that just can’t be good.

Barack Obama is an extraordinary study in self-contradiction. He’s handsome, articulate, photogenic and telegenic. He has a dynamic wife and picture perfect daughters. Yet, Barack Obama has the worst record on the sanctity of life of any presidential candidate ever. He makes Hillary Clinton look like Mother Teresa. Notwithstanding all his activism on behalf of the poor, he remains utterly committed to the position that there is no abortion that is out of bounds. Please read Terence P. Jeffrey’s article at I’ve written a lot on Obama, so I won’t add any more here. Suffice it to say that voting for Obama requires you to believe that abortion should be promoted and defended by public policy at any time, in any situation for any reason imaginable. Of course, there are people who want that, so they have their candidate in Mr. Obama. (A parenthetical comment: I’ve been asked numerous times about the Internet rumor that Obama is Muslim and swore his U.S. Senate oath on the Koran. He has stated publicly and emphatically that he is Christian—an adult convert to the ultra liberal United Church of Christ—and as far as anyone can determine he did not swear on a Koran. The only member of Congress to do so was Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota.)

Ron Paul is the only strict constitutionalist states rights candidate. It’s amazing that he remains in the Republican Party because he is better defined as a libertarian, if you can label him at all. Representative Paul (he’s a member of Congress from Texas) was the only candidate among every one that was invited to our prayer vigil at an Assemblies of God church in Manchester, New Hampshire on the eve of the primary there. While he is known to have a sincere Christian faith, he seemed slightly uncomfortable in such a setting. Still, he accepted the laying on of hands and profusely thanked my brother for the prayer Paul offered for him. Candidate Paul (a practicing Ob-Gyn) is uncompromising on the question of the federal government’s limited role in American life. He’s an idealist in the best sense of the word. He will not bend. The band of people around him is an eclectic blend of home-school Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, strict constitutional originalists, all the way to pro-marijuana legalization activists. Of course, it makes sense. What Paul is saying is that the nit-picking questions of what goes and doesn’t for society should be decided on the local and state levels, and not by a super-powerful (make that supra-powerful) federal government in Washington. He’s bold and unapologetic.

Mitt Romney is the candidate with whom I’ve had the most contact. He is certainly running the most impressive of any of the campaigns. Two of his inner circle advisors are two of my closest ministry colleagues, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice and Lou Sheldon of Traditional Values Coalition. Both are outstanding and long-time Evangelical leaders. (Jay was named among the top 25 Evangelicals in the United States by TIME Magazine.) The two biggest questions about Romney that repeat over and over again concern his previous position on abortion (he was pro-choice as Massachusetts governor) and if Christians should vote for a Mormon. On the former, I read him as a sincere convert to the pro-life ethic. On the latter, our friend Pastor Myke Crowder of one of Utah’s largest Evangelical churches, Christian Life Center of Layton, offers his reasons why Evangelicals can vote for Mormons in a letter he penned late last year. It makes for more than interesting reading. After I was taken to task for my pejorative use of the term Mormon by faith and Action supporters who are members of what is more properly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), I began an enlightening dialogue with LDS leaders. These prayerful and Bible-centered discussions led me to very different conclusions about the LDS faith than I had previously held. Don’t worry, I’m still an Evangelical, but I’ve come to appreciate how LDS members are allies with us in so many paramount moral issues, most notably the sanctity of marriage and the family. Surprisingly, while there are many LDS members engaged in the Romney campaign, there are an equal number of non-LDS people, including many Evangelicals and traditional Roman Catholics. Mitt Romney may not be the warmest candidate but he is a capable and highly successful leader. Romney is one to watch. On the Republican side it’s likely to come down to a Romney, McCain, Giuliani race.

I did sit in on a vetting dinner with Fred Thompson once, but he’s rumored to be dropping out at any time, so I don’t think it’s useful to offer much here. I’ll just say that while he had good content he never had good delivery. It takes a lot of fire in the belly to get across the finish line and he simply didn’t have it. Neither did the people around him.

I’m done for now, but I’ll have much more for you in the days ahead. Please pray and get involved. The stakes are too high in this presidential race to sit it out.

© 2008 Faith And Action

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