Jeb Bush to meet with Southern Baptist leader

With Gov. Chris Christie’s political future in doubt, some Republicans are viewing their best bet for electing the next president as a former Florida governor whose brother and father both previously held the office.

By Bob Allen

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will meet privately next month with Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, the Washington Post reported April 8, an effort to reach out to evangelicals should he decide to run for president in 2016.

jeb bush“We’ll talk about the concerns of evangelicals,” Moore told the newspaper in a phone interview. “He is a good man, and I am not surprised there is a lot of conversation about him.”

Talk of the son and brother of former presidents throwing his hat into the ring has heated up since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal raised questions about his political future.

Evangelical leaders including Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Mark DeMoss, a public-relations specialist who spearheaded Mormon candidate Mitt Romney’s outreach to evangelicals in the last election, have said they think Bush would do well in winning over conservative Christians.

Moore, who took over as head of Southern Baptists’ agency for personal morality and public policy last year, has to date expressed little interest in presidential politics but has been vocal on issues like immigration, same-sex marriage and public prayer. His predecessor, Richard Land, was widely regarded as a mover and shaker in the Religious Right, though he never formally endorsed a candidate until Romney in 2012.

Moore, one-time aide to U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), told the Post he does not endorse candidates but is happy to counsel any potential contender, whether Democrat or Republican.

In November, Moore joined a delegation of faith leaders in an Oval Office meeting with President Obama to discuss immigration reform. The meeting ended with President Obama asking Moore to lead a prayer. White House photographer Pete Souza captured the moment with a photo of the president and Vice President Joe Biden holding hands.

Moore termed the opportunity a “joy.”

"We disagree, sharply, on some very important issues, but the Bible calls on us to pray for our leaders and to show honor where honor is due," Moore said in a statement for Baptist Press. "I stand on the other side of the president on many matters, but I love him and pray for God's wisdom and discernment and direction."

Bush, 61, is a former Episcopalian who converted to Catholicism in 1995. If he enters the race, Bush could face competition for evangelical voters from former Arkansas governor and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee, who sat out the last election after a making a strong bid for the GOP nomination in 2008 before conceding to Sen. John McCain.

Huckabee, a former pastor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, is said to be considering another try in 2016 and emerged as a frontrunner in a recent poll assessing potential candidates in Iowa.