The case of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis has captivated the nation, becoming a lightning rod for the religious right and a wedge issue among the packed Republican presidential field.
Davis spent five full days behind bars for taking a religious stand against a federal court order that she issue marriage licenses to all eligible applicants, including same-sex couples. On Tuesday, she emerged from the Carter County Detention Center a hero among evangelicals and social conservatives – the very group of voters now witnessing a scramble for their political support among Republican White House hopefuls.
As far as that segment of the GOP base is concerned, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, likely benefitted most from Davis’ dramatic release. He helped escort Davis from the detention center Tuesday and, along with her attorney Mat Staver, held her hands up in the air victoriously as Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” played on loudspeakers.
By contrast, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who for months has been aggressively courting evangelical voters with a strong pledge to defend religious freedom, exited the jail a few minutes ahead of Davis and was awkwardly blocked from speaking to reporters by a Huckabee aide. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – two other candidates who have been vying for the attention of religious conservatives – missed out on the photo op entirely by deciding not to visit Davis in jail, though both did extend their support in statements to the press.
Not every Republican presidential candidate believes Davis did the right thing in defying federal law, however. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and real estate mogul Donald Trump were among those who said Davis had an obligation to perform her duties as an elected county clerk, which include issuing marriage licenses. Other candidates, meanwhile – like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson – attempted to thread the needle by issuing statements that would hopefully appeal to both religious conservatives and more mainstream Republicans. By carving out a kind of gray area on the matter, however, it’s possible those candidates won’t end up appealing to anybody.
Take a look at where the GOP presidential candidates stand on Davis.