Governor Mike Huckabee became the third presidential candidate to appear at Liberty when he made a surprise visit to speak in convocation on Wednesday, Nov. 28, just hours before he would appear in the CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Huckabee was greeted with rousing applause from the 8,000 students in attendance, many of whom waved flags and banners.One banner said, “Chuck Norris Approved,” referring to a recent endorsement from the “Walker, Texas Ranger” star.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced the former Arkansas governor as the candidate who would beat Sen. Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic frontrunner, by the largest margin of any other Republican, according to a recent CNN.com poll.
“He’s one of us,” Falwell Jr. said in convocation. “A lot of the other candidates try to talk like evangelicals, but he’s actually one of us. He believes like we do on all the issues. He’s really, I think, got a good chance at being the next president of the United States.”
During his message, Huckabee stressed the importance of the younger generation’s involvement in voting, as the next president’s decisions on issues such as abortion and homosexual marriage will affect evangelicals for years to come.
“The impact of the next president’s decisions will be far more on their lives than on mine,” Huckabee said. “They will have to live with the Supreme Court justices who are appointed. They will have to live with the decisions on war — if we fight, who we fight and how well we fight.”
Government majors were permitted to pose pre-approved questions to Gov. Huckabee at the end of convocation. Junior Daniel Webb asked why Huckabee’s campaign has been surging in recent months, as his poll numbers have tripled since July.
Huckabee related his rising popularity to what he said caused the miracle that fed a crowd of 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fish: “There literally are thousands of people across this country who are praying that little would become much, and it has.”
During a post-convocation news conference, Huckabee answered more questions about his skyrocketing poll numbers from reporters representing NBC, CNN, FoxNews and local television channels.
“It was Ghandi who said there are four stages in the process of a politician,” Huckabee said at the news conference. “First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then they attend your swearing in. We’re in stage three. We’re looking forward to stage four in January 2009.”
Much of the news conference focused on Huckabee’s reference to God as a major driving force behind his increasing popularity. When asked if God was solely responsible for his surge in the polls, Huckabee clarified: “I’m saying that when people pray, things happen.”
“I’m not saying that God wants me to be elected. The last time I checked, he hadn’t registered in any of the states to vote. If he does register, be sure to let me know, because I will ask for his vote.”
Falwell Jr., who appeared with Huckabee during the news conference, endorsed the former Southern Baptist minister as his pick for a presidential candidate. His announcement was greeted with loud cheers from a group of students.
“My father supported Gov. Huckabee before he was number two in the polls,” Falwell Jr. said. “He’s my first choice. I think Huckabee is the closest to what we believe on all the issues.”
Later that afternoon, the top story under the “Politics” section of FoxNews.com sported the headline “Jerry Falwell Jr. Endorses Mike Huckabee for President, Echoes Late Father’s Support.”
After the news conference, Huckabee flew directly to St. Peterbsurg, Fla. to prepare for the CNN/YouTube debate. Many political analysts heralded Huckabee as the decisive winner, although he spoke for only 10 minutes in comparison to about 16 minutes for former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani.
Huckabee is no stranger to Liberty University. A friend of the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, Huckabee spoke last year at convocation and Thomas Road Baptist Church’s Super Conference. He was invited to speak at Liberty a second time during a recent phone call with Falwell Jr.
By law, Liberty is required to make any public forum that it sponsors available to all candidates if it makes it available to any, according to Falwell Jr. Barry Moore, vice president for community relations, issued invitations to all candidates in both parties last week. No candidates have responded to the invitation.
Huckabee joins U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was the 2006 commencement speaker, and Alan Keyes, former Assistant Secretary of State who spoke at convocation in September, as presidential candidates who have addressed Liberty students.
At press time, the Rasmussen national poll of Republican candidates shows Huckabee in second place, trailing Guiliani 22 to 17 percent, within the five percent margin of error.
The race for the Republican presidential nomination will officially begin with the Iowa Caucus on Jan. 3. The most recent Rasmussen Iowa poll shows Huckabee in first place over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, leading 28 to 25 percent, within the three percent margin of error.
Contact Jenni Thurman at email@example.com.