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Christian soldiers march onward to Ames 

Beware when sniping starts between preachy professed Christians all pent up in political pursuit of the presidency of a country that's supposed to have free religion.

The field of Republican presidential hopefuls offers two candidates — our own Mike Huckabee and Kansas' Sam Brownback — who seek to nab the gloriously eroding niche occupied by disciples of the kooky Christian right.

You know the ones. They want to keep women down and they hate gayness because their loving God commands it. They say you're not Christian unless you march in lockstep with them and that God commands them to get you in lockstep. This is to save your miserable soul from eternal damnation — and, in the meantime, a Democratic White House.

A Republican presidential straw vote is coming up Saturday in Ames, Iowa. Either Huckabee or Brownback will probably get second place behind Mitt Romney. That's because Rudy Giuliani and John McCain aren't even participating owing to the silliness, and Fred Thompson, of myth and mystique and a curiously slow trigger finger, isn't actually a declared candidate yet.

Continued presence in the race, which is not to say actual viability, hangs in the balance for these two professed Christians. If you can't get second in a pointless exercise devoid of most of the stronger candidates and in which you are heavily invested, then you'll be relegated to a kind of pitiable state.

This Ames straw vote is all about which candidate can round up the most people to get on buses and go cast hollow votes, perhaps by subsidizing the fee. Everybody expects the loaded Romney to buy first place.

So Huckabee and Brownback have been competing vigorously for runner-up, a spinnable achievement. Each has done so by seeking to present himself as the genuine candidate of Christian evangelicals. This would bring straw voters right out of the pews, you see.

Huckabee has certain advantages. He has sprung to 8 percent in a recent Iowa poll, tied for fourth with McCain. A Fox News focus group overwhelmingly awarded Our Boy Mike a debate victory over the weekend. Still, David Yepsen, veteran columnist for the Des Moines Register, had a column the other day suggesting Brownback might fare better in the straw vote.

It turns out that an alleged preacher supporting Huckabee in this holy war, an Iowa dude calling himself the Rev. Tim Rude, got caught sending an e-mail to two Brownback people seeking to convert them to Huckabee by accusing Brownback of being ... well, Catholic.

Here's what the rude Rude wrote: “Huckabee is an evangelical ... He is one of us. I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002. Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment.”

Upon learning of this missive, Brownback expressed outrage and said Huckabee owed him an apology. Huckabee said he had no control over what some fellow not associated with his campaign wrote. Huckabee said key members of his staff are Roman Catholics.

Brownback then called Huckabee's response “evasive.”

That set off Chip Saltsman, a Bill Frist refugee and Huckabee's campaign manager, and, it turns out, a Catholic. Saltsman put out a statement going off on Brownback for “whining.” He said Brownback “ought to start showing some of the Christian character he seems to always find lacking in others.” He said that if Brownback was going to “fall to pieces every time a supporter of the governor says something he doesn't like, he clearly isn't tough enough to be president.”

In response, the Brownback campaign issued a public statement asserting that when it learned of the Rev. Rude's offending e-mails, it asked Huckabee's campaign to take action to end this “trash.” It said the Huckabee campaign didn't respond for two days, then made only that previously cited statement, short of a denunciation.

So, as wars linger and bridges fall, these Christian soldiers press onward to Ames.

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