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Power Struggle: Who Will Be the Religious Right's New Kingpin?

With James Dobson inching toward retirement, many wonder who will fill the religious right's bully pulpit.

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But does Huckabee want the job?


Huckabee sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He was popular with many Religious Right activists but for various reasons never won over the leadership of several of the top organizations.


Part of the problem was that Huckabee often delivered mixed messages. On the stump during the primaries, he was forced to moderate somewhat to appeal to as many voters as possible. Huckabee, for example, would often talk about his belief that the Bible commands people to care for those in need. These messages fell flat with the Religious Right, which remains fixated on abortion and homosexuality, the red meat of the culture wars.


By the time Huckabee ramped up his message, it was too late. After the campaign, Huckabee formed a political action committee, accepted a gig hosting a Saturday night show on the Fox News Channel and published a book titled Do The Right Thing: Inside the Movement That's Bringing Common Sense Back to America.


Many political pundits believe Huckabee will run again in 2012. Huckabee has been predictably cagey about the race, but it's unlikely he would assume the leadership of a Religious Right group in the interim. A position such as that is a poor platform for a serious presidential candidate.


But if Huckabee were to run in 2012 and fail again, he might consider a job with a Religious Right organization. He would be in his late 50s, certainly young enough to consider such a career change.


Rick Warren


Although he's not usually identified with the Religious Right, evangelical author and mega-church pastor Rick Warren holds nearly identical views on social issues. He's opposed to legal abortion and urged his California congregation to vote to ban same-sex marriage. In that regard, he fits in well with the Religious Right.


But Warren does not stick to the tried-and-true Religious Right issues. He has been involved in movements to rally evangelicals on behalf of the environment and talks about the need to help the poor.


Warren is also something of a political opportunist who enjoys being near the seat of power, no matter who is sitting in it. He backed George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 but did not offer an endorsement in 2008, perhaps sensing that GOP nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain was unlikely to win.


Instead, Warren hosted both Obama and McCain at a forum at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Although the two did not appear together in a debate format, Warren quizzed both candidates with an identical set of questions.


Obama in turn reached out to Warren. In a move that shocked some, Obama asked Warren to deliver the invocation during his Jan. 20 presidential inauguration. Despite grumbling from some progressive activists, Warren accepted.


Warren has made it clear that he does not agree with Obama on issues like abortion, gay rights and stem-cell research. Nevertheless, his ties to the administration, tangential as they are, would make it difficult for him to ascend to the leadership of the Religious Right as it is currently constituted. Religious Right groups have offered nothing but criticism of the new administration since Inauguration Day.


Warren would have to work a lot to win over the Religious Right's foot soldiers. With a best-selling book under his belt and a vast mega-church empire at his control, Warren might very well consider himself more like the next Billy Graham - a sort of quasi-national pastor who is seen as transcending partisan politics. If that is indeed Warren's goal, he might very well consider a job with the Religious Right a step down.

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