President Obama and Tim Pawlenty Courting Evangelicals in 2012

The Star Tribune is running a profile of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and his outreach to evangelical Christians in the past couple of months. I have already discussed Pawlenty’s recent interview with Christianity Today. But in Rose French’s piece for the Tribune, she asks Rice University sociologist D. Michael Lindsey for his take on Pawlenty:

“Pawlenty appeals to a younger evangelical, one who cares about issues beyond abortion and same-sex marriage like… the environment,’’ Lindsey said. “He’s seen as a fresher face. He’s not a brash or harsh evangelical. He seems to embody this… authentic Christian faith. Evangelicals, if anything, have become well-trained on picking up on religious phonies.”

Those “younger evangelicals” are the sort that Barack Obama aimed to steal away from the GOP in 2008. As Lindsey notes in the article, these young evangelicals would most likely be turned off by a culture warrior like Mike Huckabee or an economic conservative like Mitt Romney. Pawlenty could be appealing to younger conservative Christians who were inspired by candidate Barack Obama but are now discontented with President Barack Obama.

The president himself, however, is also courting evangelicals. The White House named Lynne Hybels, wife of Willow Creek megachurch brand founder Bill Hybels, to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The Hybels’ didn’t invent the evangelical megachurch but they sure did perfect it. Obama also appointed Leith Anderoson, another megachurch pastor and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the major inter-denominational evangelical organization in the country. And to bring this whole thing full circle, Anderson is the pastor of Tim Pawlenty’s church, Wooddale Church in Minnesota.

So, the race is officially on to win the “evangelical vote” in 2012. Obama has upped his God talk recently and continues to remind everyone that he is a Christian. It remains to be seen if he can hold onto votes he garnered from evangelicals in 2008. Meanwhile, every major GOP candidate other than Mitt Romney has been quick to flash their evangelical street cred and even Romney has his evangelical fans. Between now and November 2012 Obama’s and the GOP candidates’ courtship with evangelicals will only get snugglier.