Name that evangelical endorsement

The political cycle has inevitably generated endorsement after endorsement, and trigger-happy reporters appear ready to jump on nearly every backing from anyone who self-identifies as an evangelical. With 60 percent of South Carolina voters describing themselves as evangelicals, reporters are hoping to provide a clue as to how those votes might fall on Saturday.

Here's how Cathleen Falsani puts it over at Sojourners' blog.

As someone who self-identifies as an evangelical Christian, often I begin to feel like the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary, particularly in the midst of a heated presidential election cycle.

It’s Evangelical Week here on Discovery! Travel with us as our explorers track the elusive evangelical in its native habitats. Watch as evangelicals worship, work and play, all captured on film with the latest high definition technology. And follow our intrepid documentary team members as they bravely venture into the most dangerous of exotic evangelical locations — the voting booth!

To get a sense of some of the stranger coverage, let’s zero in on one report in particular posted at the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times websites.

A trio of South Carolina evangelicals threw their support behind Rick Santorum on Wednesday with a provocative statement that praises the former Pennsylvania senator for putting his name to “extremely politically-incorrect statements about homosexuality, heterosexuality and marital fidelity,” while rebuking front-runner Mitt Romney for “homophilia" and suggesting that his Mormon faith is “heretical.”

That's quite the endorsement, but where is it coming from? Without the media, is there any indication that their endorsement might impact any number of people?

“Rick Santorum clearly sees homosexuality for what the Bible, Rome, Bob Jones University and even Salt Lake City have always regarded it, as a very serious form of sexual sin like adultery or incest,” the Rev. Huey Mills, a Lancaster pastor and principal of a Christian school, said in a statement. ...

Joining Mills were Lt. Col. Ray Moore, a retired U.S. Army Reserve chaplain who lives in Columbia, and Molotov Mitchell, an evangelical Christian video artist who has produced YouTube videos highlighting Newt Gingrich’s history of infidelity.

Apparently all you need to get your endorsement reported is to produce YouTube videos. Is there any indication that these evangelicals represent any organizations or something more than any other evangelical in South Carolina? By the way, where did the statement come from? Did the reporter ask any questions or is this a re-written press release?

In all of the fuss over endorsements for different candidates, CNN's Dan Gilgoff pulled off a particularly interesting profile of a woman in South Carolina who backs Mitt Romney. Read how he begins:

You’ve probably never heard of her, but Cindy Costa’s tablemates at a Sunday prayer breakfast here hint at her influence.

Inside a hotel ballroom bulging with 400 socially conservative activists, Costa is seated with the headliners: White House hopeful Rick Perry and political operative Ralph Reed.

From there, he builds a case for why she's influential, who she represents, what motivates her work, how she chooses who she backs. For instance, he quotes her own views quite a bit in the piece to explain where she's coming from, which allows the reader to decide whether or not to agree with her.

For Costa, any concerns about Romney’s Mormonism were put to rest at a 2008 forum she attended in upstate South Carolina, an evangelical stronghold, at which the candidate spent half a day taking questions from pastors.

“They asked who he thought Jesus Christ was, and his answer was that Jesus Christ was his Lord and savior,” Costa says. “And I said, ‘OK, here we are. That’s what I believe.’”

Many evangelicals part company with Costa on that point. Though Mormons consider themselves to be Christian, surveys show that about half of white evangelicals don't think they are.

There's much, much more, but it gives you a sense of the contrast between the two types of coverage. It helps to remember that all evangelicals are not alike.

Group of raising hands image via Shutterstock.

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