Matthew Sutton
Matthew Sutton

Candidate Ben Carson is tied for second place in Texas voting polls, and the conventional wisdom says his unlikely candidacy is faltering. Yet his recent tribulations seem only to have deepened the commitment of the Carson faithful, many of them evangelical Christians who, just as they have a personal relationship with Jesus, also have a personal relationship with Ben, via videos, his seminal texts — “Gifted Hands” and eight other books — his nurturing Facebook presence, and one particular moment when he appeared to challenge President Obama’s approach to leading the country.

“I think voting for an African-American allows these evangelicals to say, `We’re not racist; we don’t like Obama because of his politics, not anything to do with the fact that he is a black man,’” said Washington State University associate professor of history Matthew Sutton, editor of the forthcoming “Faith in the New Millennium: The Future of American Religion and Politics.”

“It makes them feel good about themselves to say, `We can support a black man who upholds our values,’” Sutton said. “Republicans have been saying for a while they have to have a bigger tent, they have to be more inclusive. So this is a way for the grass-roots folks to say, `This isn’t as big a problem as our leadership thinks it is. In fact, it’s not about race, it’s about ideas. If we had the right person with the right ideas, we would be as inclusive as anybody else.’”

And, unlike, for example, Clarence Thomas or Herman Cain, Carson retains sufficient standing in the black community to potentially win a small but significant slice of the black vote in a general election.

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Austin American-Statesman