Focus on the Family founder James Dobson denied in Monday’s radio broadcast an Internet report that claimed he is on the brink of endorsing Mike Huckabee for president.
Huckabee picked up several endorsements last week from religious leaders, including three former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, but Dobson, viewed as the most influential leader of the Religious Right, insisted he is still watching the GOP nomination race from the sidelines.
On Sunday Huckabee announced endorsements of faith leaders including Charisma Magazine founder Stephen Strang, Vision America founder Rick Scarborough, Faith2Action president Janet Fogler and Liberty University law school dean Mathew Staver.
On Friday the Huckabee campaign rolled out endorsements from former SBC presidents Jack Graham, Jimmy Draper and Jerry Vines.
Draper, retired president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said he has known Huckabee, a former pastor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, for 30 years.
“I know him to be a man absolute integrity and sterling character,” Draper said. “He has the strength of convictions that will enable him to be a great leader.”
Vines, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said he endorsed Huckabee “wholeheartedly.”
Also endorsing Huckabee were Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Jay Strack, president and founder of Student Leadership University in Orlando, Fla.; and Billy McCormack, pastor of University Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., and founding national board member of the Christian Coalition.
An American Spectator blog Friday quoted unnamed sources saying Dobson was expected within 10 days to coordinate an endorsement plan with the former Arkansas governor’s presidential campaign.
“I’m not on the verge of endorsing anybody,” Dobson said Monday, calling the report a “made up” story and “crazy.”
Dobson said he is not endorsing Huckabee “or anybody” else at this time.
“Now I may eventually endorse somebody, but if I do it won’t be done here on Focus on the Family,” he said. “It will be done as a private individual, and more than likely it will be later in the campaign when the situation has clarified itself.”
Dobson said he is still watching the Republican candidates “very carefully.”
“I’m seeing how they hold up in a presidential campaign,” he said. “That’s a difficult road out there, and weaknesses begin to fall out and people say stupid things. They reveal untenable positions. And I’m not going to go put my name on somebody at this stage before I see how they’re going to handle that.”
Dobson said he has indicated there are three Republican candidates he would never vote for, because of ethical and moral reasons.
“But there are four more who are pro-life and who are consistent with many of the things that I believe, and I am taking my time about seeing how that’s going to shake out,” he said. “And so that’s where we are, and why this statement is crazy.”
The American Spectator report predicted Dobson’s endorsement of Huckabee would “change the landscape” of the race for the Republican nomination by helping the candidate with fund-raising and creating a “domino effect” of other endorsements.
The American Spectator article quoted an unnamed Huckabee insider in Iowa, who said Dobson’s endorsement would be staged in that state at a rally, followed by a bus tour across the state, and an appearance by Huckabee on Dobson’s nationally heard radio show, which is heard nationally.
Dobson said it would be illegal for him to endorse a candidate on the radio, because it could cause his ministry to lose its tax-exempt status.”I know Mike Huckabee personally,” Dobson said. “I like him. We talk on the phone, and I don’t mean to be disparaging to him at all. It’s just I can’t do that. And I’m not able to do that at this time.”
Dobson aides began issuing denials of any endorsement plans shortly after the American Spectator article appeared Friday. The American Spectator updated its report to say it went back to the sources originally quoted on background, and they stood by their account.
Huckabee released a statement saying there was “no imminent campaign announcement” about Dobson’s support, and his campaign has not said there is. Huckabee said he had spoken personally to Dobson about the matter, calling Internet reports to the contrary “wild rumors.”
Dobson also complained in Monday’s broadcast about comments attributed to Ken Connor, former head of the Family Research Council, last week while he was delivering a lecture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
In an interview with Religion News Service, Connor said leading conservatives, including Dobson, have not thrown in with Huckabee because they fear a loss of political clout if they back a long-shot candidate who doesn’t win.
“There are perceptions these guys are more concerned about being players than they are about principle,” Connor said.
Connor said religious kingmakers “have enjoyed having a seat at the table for so long” that they have at times failed to stand up for principles, and as a result have “lost credibility with their people.”
“I don’t know where the fellow is coming from, because anybody who has listened to this broadcast for more than three or four days is aware that I have given my life to this battle to defend the family, and especially the unborn child,” Dobson said.
Dobson said he hasn’t talked to Connor, even by phone, for at least three years.
“So I don’t know how he can talk about my motives,” Dobson said. “He’s psychoanalyzing me when we’ve had no contact at all. If he knows anything about me he knows that for 30 years I have been unwavering in the things that I believe.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.