Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee kept a pre-campaign promise, appearing at a private fundraiser in Nashville on Thursday evening.
“We invited him before he was actually running for president,” said Candy Christmas, the founder of The Bridge, a nonprofit homeless outreach ministry that held its formal dinner fundraiser Thursday at Lipscomb University. “We might be a small fish, you know?
“But for him to come and shine a spotlight on The Bridge is monumental for us.”
And though he told news reporters and dinner guests his appearance was a “night off” from politics, Huckabee did some mingling and picture-taking at a VIP reception.
He did not field press questions about his campaign, but emphasized during a nearly 30-minute speech that service organizations such as The Bridge should be accountable to God, not government oversight.
About 850 people attended The Bridge’s annual dinner. Huckabee told them The Bridge was a miracle program and drew laughs with a few lighthearted jabs at recent campaign trail events.
“Several of you asked me more questions at dinner than I got in the CNN debate,” he said, referencing last week’s GOP candidate debate.
Huckabee said he met Christmas several years ago through friends. The fundraiser was at least the third stop the Republican presidential hopeful has made in Nashville this year.
Christmas, a gospel musician, founded The Bridge in 2004. She said she suffered from depression at the time, but thrived when she was challenged to help others. She made a pot of jambalaya and fed seven homeless men under the Jefferson Street bridge downtown.
Now, each Tuesday, the nonprofit feeds 1,000 people, she said.
Huckabee, a former pastor, has been sometimes controversially outspoken on his conservative religious viewpoints. In a previous Nashville appearance, he said a lack of reliance on God was harming America, and on Thursday, he touted his religion as the reason for his pro-life position.
He emphasized The Bridge’s base in Christian ministry as an independent nonprofit.
“What Candy is doing is the model of how needs can be met, not by the government, but by people who have a real heart for others and unselfishly and generously give,” he said.
“But it’s done as a Christian ministry, and done in a way that not only gives people food for their bodies, but food for their spirits as well.”
Huckabee said The Bridge is great “because the government hasn’t messed it up yet” and said he feared government regulations could ruin the organization’s mission. He said that fear was an indicator that Americans should “pray ourselves back into God’s blessing.”
“What the government can never do is put its arms around someone and say I love you,” he said.