John Gizzi at the South Carolina Republican Primary

Huck and the New "Enviro-Christians"

Columbia, S.C.: The ten twentysomethings on the steps of the Capitol brandish buttons reading "Stop Global Warming." They admire Sens. John Warner (R.-VA) and Joe Lieberman (D.-CT) for sponsoring major legislation to deal with the issue of global warming and believe the European Union has done an "incredible job" in addressing this subject. They love the Endangered Species Act and several hope for "the rebuilding of cities so the poor people don’t have to spend so much on their cars to get around."

A rally for Greenpeace? A reunion of Al Gore’s presidential campaign workers? No, this was a gathering of strong evangelical Christians, to a person pro-life and believing marriage is between a man and woman. But, tired of being linked only to those issuesand believing that we should be good stewards of the planet as much as being for life and traditional marriage, these young Christians have mobilized into the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Although the members here Friday morning resisted being polled on their presidential favorites, it was clear that Mike Huckabee was popular among them and quoted frequently as a Republican who "gets it" on their issue. The Network members, however, quickly emphasized to me that they have prayed with Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney as well as Huckabee. They are traveling on a bus run by "Redeem the Vote," a Montgomery, Alabama-based group whose goal is to register the 16-to-25 million evangelical Christians who they estimate are unregistered.

To meet and talk to the group is to understand why Huckabee sometimes alarms more traditional conservatives with some of his stands–and it may also offer some explanation of the former Arkansas governor wins a close race in South Carolina, which has strong pockets of environmentalists in the Charleston area and elsewhere.

"We want to inspire Christians to redeem the environment," Dr. Rusty Pritchard, National Director of Outreach for the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), told me, "Young evangelicals do not like being pidgeonholed as single issue voters."

Pritchard believes that environmental issues are directly related to other concerns of Christians. He singled out Huckabee for praise because of the Arkansas Republican’s call for energy independence. In Pritchard’s view, "If we do become energy independent, we will not have to rely on despotic foreign regimes for oil and can be freer in calling for religious liberty."

When I asked Huckabee spokesman Jim Harris whether his candidate agrees with the stands of the EEN, he replied: "He’s not sure on the science involving global warming, but he supports the use of ‘green’ technology that would prevent global warming. He likes that the bottom line is that we give the next generation a cleaner world."

The EU, Global Warming–And Second Opinions

Mary Rafferty, a Rhode Island EEN member, told me that "clean energy is my issue" and that the Bush Administration "has not addressed it in a way it needs to be addressed." Her admiration instead goes to French President Nicholas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other European Union leaders because the EU "has done an incredible job" on global warming and other environmental concerns. Rafferty specifically pointed out that the EU is calling for mandatory caps on carbon emission and the U.S. only backs voluntary caps.

"I’m a youth, this is my future," Rafferty told me, "One day I want to have a family, so I want to leave a healthy environment for future generations."

Rafferty, Pritchard and the other EEN activists are passionate that making sure guaranteeing a life is "safe and healthy in the womb" is also safe and healthy after birth–which means a clean environment.

There are other opinions. Arriving back at the Clarion Town House hotel, I meet Virginia Ann Seters, a writer of Christian books, in the dining room. Sharing what I heard from the EEN earlier in the day, I asked her if she felt stopping abortion was on a par of importance with a clean environment. "The environment is important and I agree we are going to have some problems if we don’t clean up the soil," the Columbia woman tells me, "But I don’t see it at the level of importance of abortion and physician-related suicide. More than 40 million babies have been murdered since Roe v. Wade came down in 1971 and one abortion is too many."

McCain Cellmate Slams Smear

Although some bloggers think it is beneath John McCain’s campaign to respond to recent attacks on the candidate’s war record by "Vietnam Veterans Against McCain," the Arizona senator’s onetime cellmate for two years at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" feels otherwise. Orson Swindle, former U.S. Marine and one of McCain’s closest friends, fired back at Jerry Kiley, head of the Vietnam Veterans group that last week sent out press releases charging McCain as a prisoner of war received medical treatment from the North Vietnamese in return for giving information that led to the capture of other U.S. airmen–a never-before-heard and undocumented accusation that even McCain’s harshest critics have never leveled against him.

He’s an insignificant human being, a nobody," Swindle told me in between campaign stops for McCain less than a day before the South Carolina primary tomorrow. "He calls this group ‘Vietnam Veterans Against McCain,’ and he’s the only member."

Swindle, a former assistant secretary of Commerce under Ronald Reagan and member of the Federal Trade Commission, said he would "not dignify" the accusations by Kiley with a response. Rather, he told me, "just look at the number of former Vietnam POWs who knew John and are supporting him." So far, 85 former POWs–ranging from Medal of Honor winner Leo K. Thorsness to Ev Alvarez, captured in 1965 and thus the longest-serving POW–have weighed in for former comrade McCain. In addition, scores of retired military figures and former civilian military leaders have signed on with McCain: South Carolina Adjutant General Stan Spears, the only elected adjutant general in the nation, son Stan, Jr., McCain’s veterans coordinators; former U.S. Marine Corps commandants P.X. Kelly and Carl Mundy; former Secretary of the Navy Will Ball; and onetime Reagan National Security Advisor and retired U.S. Marine Bud McFarlane.
None would be campaigning hard for McCain if there was a scintilla of truth in Kiley’s charges, added Swindle, "and there is none."

In a state with 400,000 military families and where just over 197,000 voters participated in the Republican presidential primary in 2000, military endorsements are crucial. Seven years ago, while McCain had support from many leading veterans, it was by no means unanimous; Rep. Sam Johnson (R.-Tex.), for example, supported friend and fellow Texan George W. Bush over fellow Vietnam POW McCain. Swindle and other McCain backers quickly note that this year, the Arizonan’s backing from veterans is much larger.

Swindle and others suspect that Kiley’s salvo might be motivated to undermine McCain among his fellow veterans here in South Carolina.

Politics can get rough in the South Carolina presidential primary. McCain and other backers have felt he lost to Bush here in 2000 in large part because of whispering campaigns and highly personal and unfounded charges contained therein. Is there anything like that in ’08, I asked Swindle? "Not involving John, but it’s there," he said, "I heard about the push polls from Mike Huckabee in which voters are asked things about Fred Thompson’s record that aren’t there. And the press keeps trying to get Fred to say something bad about John McCain. He hasn’t."