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Huckabee Hosts 4 GOP Candidates At Film Premiere

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The last winner of the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side in 2008 was Mike Huckabee, and he's back. Last night in Des Moines, he hosted four of this year's contenders at a premier of an anti-abortion film in which Huckabee appears. There was no endorsement from Huckabee. But there was a lot of talk about the need for abortion and other social issues to play a role in selecting a nominee - that in a year when polls show that even evangelical voters are most concerned about jobs and the economy. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea was there.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and now a Fox News personality, decided last spring he would not be a candidate this year. But he still got a hero's welcome in the state that gave him victory in its caucuses four years ago. All of the candidates for this year's GOP nomination were invited to attend this film screening. Here's Huckabee.

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GONYEA: Those candidates were Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Senator Rick Santorum. Each has been courting the Iowa GOP's large contingent of evangelicals and Christian conservatives. Each was on topic last night.

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GONYEA: Four years ago, Huckabee won the caucuses because these voters rallied behind him. This time around, the votes of conservative Christians are not just going to one candidate. Take this couple at last night's screening, Charles and Wilda Albrecht. He's 70, she's 66. His choice...

CHARLES ALBRECHT: Almost 100 percent, it's Rick Santorum. I just think he is consistent. He's a conservative.

GONYEA: And hers...

WILDA ALBRECHT: I like Michele Bachmann. And...

GONYEA: Tell me why.

WANDA ALBRECHT: Because I believe she tells it like it is.

GONYEA: As to whether it would be better if there were a consensus candidate among Christian conservatives...

ALBRECHT: We all have a right to vote how we want.

GONYEA: A recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows Newt Gingrich leading among white evangelicals in Iowa, getting 34 percent. Also in double digits are, in order of support, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. That fragmentation makes it less likely that evangelicals will be able to take credit for picking Iowa's winner as they could with Huckabee in '08. Each of the candidates speaking last night would love Huckabee's endorsement. I asked him about that as he headed to a waiting SUV.

: No, I don't plan to endorse. Because I really think that at this point if I walked into the voting booth, I'm not sure who I would vote for tonight.

GONYEA: But he predicted that whoever wins the nomination will be supported by Christian conservatives. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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