Which One Has the Religion Problem, Gingrich or Romney?

In the wake of Newt Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina Republican primary tonight, Mike Huckabee said Mitt Romney needs to address his faith.

Romney’s not the one with the religion problem, even if he still faces anti-Mormon prejudice. The religious right has a huge religion problem.

Via the Huffington Post:

Exit polls show that 43 percent of voters who said that the candidates’ religious beliefs mattered “a great deal” went for Gingrich. Only 9 percent went for Romney — a lower percentage than he netted overall, where he is running in second. In contrast, of voters who said the religious beliefs of candidates didn’t matter to them at all, Romney won 42 percent.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who came in second in the South Carolina primary in 2008 and had strong backing from religious conservatives, said he hoped that Romney’s Mormon faith did not prejudice South Carolinians.

“I’d like to believe that’s not the issue,” Huckabee told Fox Business host Neil Cavuto. “Four years ago, I was accused of making it an issue. It wasn’t for me then, it isn’t for me now. I would no more not vote for someone because they were Mormon than I would vote for somebody like Al Gore because he’s a Baptist, for heaven’s sake. I think that’s a ridiculous reason to vote or not vote for someone, unless they’ve done something that’s so wacky — like mix the blood of little children together in a public ceremony.”

Taking a look at the full exit polling data, via CNN, 60% of South Carolina voters said the religious beliefs of the candidates a great deal or somewhat, and 45% of them went for Gingrich; 19% for Romney, and 22% for Santorum.

Yes, I know, the meeting of religious right “leaders” (who didn’t do much actual leading, or rather there wasn’t much following) produced a consensus for Santorum. But it didn’t matter, and neither did Santorum’s apparent greater fidelity to his shared faith with Gingrich. Gingrich’s bombast at the debates apparently went a long way, together with (possibly) support from the minority of religious right powerbrokers who did back him.

Evangelical voters made up 65% of the South Carolina electorate, and 44% of them voted for a twice-divorced convert to Catholicism who doesn’t seem to have much regard for the “sanctity” of marriage. Of that electorate dominated by evangelicals and Gingrich’s fellow Catholics (who made up 13% of electorate) only 18% said the “strong moral character” of the candidate mattered most to them. (Most, 45%, said ability to defeat Obama was the most important to them.) But Gingrich won only 6% of those “strong moral character” voters. (I’d like to hear a speech from those voters, in fact.)

Romney has a lot of problems as a candidate — and they are legion. I don’t want to hear a religion speech from him, or from anyone else, particularly not Gingrich (God save us from that, please). Tonight, it’s not Romney’s religion that’s baffling to everyone outside of South Carolina.

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