James Dobson’s top aides deny a report today that the evangelical leader has decided to endorse former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Huckabee campaign also told WND it will issue a statement saying it is unaware of any such plans by the Focus on the Family founder, widely considered one of the most influential voices among evangelicals.
The American Spectator, however, in an update, says its anonymous sources stand by the report.
In its online “Prowler” column today, the Spectator cited sources “close to Dobson” who “say that within the next 10 days he is coordinating an endorsement plan” with Huckabee.
The Huckabee campaign said while it would welcome Dobson’s support, and Huckabee “greatly admires his work,” it cannot confirm the rumor, and there are no plans of an imminent announcement.
Focus on the Family spokesman Nema Reza told WND that Tom Minnery, the group’s senior vice president, and communications chief Gary Schneeberger both deny the report.
Any endorsement Dobson would make, however, would be as a private individual and not in his capacity as the head of Focus on the Family.
Fox News reporter Carl Cameron said this afternoon that as a result of the Spectator report today, Dobson and Huckabee spoke to each other on the phone. Cameron said there will be no imminent announcement. But he added that an endorsement is not out of the question, and Huckabee would welcome it.
The American Spectator, citing a “Huckabee insider in Iowa,” says a campaign event is being planned for an early primary state, “followed by a bus tour across the state, and an appearance by Huckabee on Dobson’s radio show, which is heard nationally.”
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee
Minnery later wrote an e-mail to the Spectator denying any endorsement plan: “Dr. Dobson isn’t close to an endorsement of anyone in the 2008 race.”
The Spectator, nevertheless, says it contacted the sources who initially spoke on background, and they “insisted that as of last night, plans were being put in place by the Huckabee campaign for an announcement and endorsement tour, and stood by their account.”
“Rumors about a potential Dobson endorsement of Huckabee have been swirling in Washington for several days, and would have come at a time when other social conservatives are beginning a serious run on endorsement events,” the Spectator says.
The magazine notes the board of the National Right to Life Committee is holding a meeting this weekend to discuss a potential endorsement strategy, and Dr. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association has endorsed Huckabee in the past 24 hours.
In September, WND reported Huckabee took the top position in a straw poll conducted at the Values Voter Presidential Debate in Florida, where candidates were asked their positions on abortion, terrorism, free speech, free exercise of religion and other issues.
The Huckabee source told the Spectator a Dobson endorsement could mean millions in fundraising to the campaign, allowing it to compete at the same level with the top tier candidates.
Huckabee recently has enjoyed a surge in polls.
“It would help us get to the Thompson-McCain level if not higher,” says the source. “Dr. Dobson’s endorsement means that much.”
Dobson was top pro-family activists who met in Salt Lake City Sept. 29 to plot a strategy should Giuliani or another supporter of legalized abortion be nominated. Not only was there a consensus among activists to withhold support for the Republican nominee, there was even discussion about supporting the entry of a new candidate to challenge the frontrunners.
Earlier this week, Pat Robertson surprised many pundits by endorsing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who sharply differs with the evangelical leader on key social issues such as abortion and homosexual rights.
Dobson, in an exclusive column for WND in March, said he would not back Giuliani because of his “unapologetic” support for abortion on demand. Dobson later said he couldn’t back Sen. John McCain either, because of the Arizona senator’s opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The Spectator notes today that McCain’s campaign hopes an endorsement by Sen. Sam Brownback, who recently abandoned his White House bid, will bolster the Arizona lawmaker’s standing with social conservatives who have been sitting on the fence.
In addition to his rejection of Giuliani and McCain, Dobson already is on the record giving a thumbs down to the candidacy of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
Thompson responded to Dobson’s rebuff in a TV interview last month, suggesting the Focus on the Family founder’s opinion of him was not representative of evangelical Christian leaders.
Asked by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity whether it would be helpful to have a conversation with Dobson, Thompson replied, “I have no idea. I don’t particularly care to have a conversation with him.”
“If he wants to call up and apologize again, you know, it’s OK with me,” Thompson said. “But I’m not going to dance to anybody’s tune.”
Thompson, who said he has never spoken with Dobson, was referring to two separate occasions in which Dobson expressed skepticism about his candidacy. In March, according to Thompson, a Dobson aide telephoned him to “kind of apologize the first time he attacked me and said I wasn’t a Christian.” As WND reported, Dobson was quoted by U.S. News and World Report saying, “Everyone knows [Thompson’s] conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for, [but] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.”
A spokesman for Focus on the Family later issued a clarification, explaining Dobson did not mean to disparage Thompson and was “attempting to highlight that to the best of his knowledge, Sen. Thompson hadn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him.”
Then, in September, in a private e-mail to friends reported by the Associated Press, Dobson said he won’t be supporting Thompson: “Not for me, my brothers. Not for me!”
Schneeberger told WND last month that Dobson did not have an immediate response to Thompson’s comments in the Hannity interview but might offer one later.