On paper, the Rev. O’Neal Dozier is a Republican candidate’s dream, a black minister who pastors a prominent church in Pompano Beach Florida and whose views and past ties to the Bush family have made him a darling in conservative Republican circles.
That is, until he opens his mouth.
Over the years, Rev. Dozier has spouted his share of self-inflicted controversy. In 2006, he derided Muslims as “terrorists” and labled Islam “a cult” during a debate over a mosque’s plans to move into a predominantly black neighborhood. Last October he used the same cult description on Mormonism. He called a Miami judge’s ruling to allow a gay man to adopt two foster children as “one of the worst cases of judicial activism we could ever see,” and he once said a Hilliary Clinton presidency would “inflame Muslims” because she’s a woman. And who can forget: gays ”… make God vomit.”
The rhetorical flourishes occur a little too often, and the timing is usually problematic. The result: what starts as a political embrace dissolves into outright distancing. Former governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist have been down this road with Dozier. Bush ultimately forced Dozier to resign from the state panel that selects judicial nominations and then gubernatorial nominee Crist removed Dozier from a campaign advisory panel, dubbed “Strengthening Florida’s Families,” after the minister’s remarks about Islam.
More recently GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain began having second thoughts about Dozier’s involvement at a South Florida campaign rally. The Cain campaign refused to allow Dozier to give the invocation after inviting him to do so.
Now it’s Rick Santorum’s turn.
Rev. Dozier is the honorary chairman of Santorum’s Florida campaign, and his Worldwide Christian Center church was Santorum’s first campaign stop in a presidential primary where the one-time Republican senator from Pennsylvania hopes to show Florida Republicans that he’s the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney (Santorum delivered a sermon at the church on Sunday.)
Rev. Dozier once backed social conservative for president, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and he seems equally unflappable in his resolve to help Santorum.
”The thing with Rick Santorum is he’s not a compromiser,” Rev. Dozier told the South Florida Sun Sentinel “He’s not a politically correct kind of guy. People are looking at him because of that. The reason he was so far back in the polls [before winning the Iowa caucuses] is he’s mild, he doesn’t have that charisma tha some of the other guys had. Also it’s because he’s heavy on those social issues.”
”Those social issues are going to be very important because you have a large segment of the Republican Party weighing those issues very heavily,” he continued. “Abortion, same-sex marriage, those issues. They’re going to play a big role.”
Rev. Dozier’s analysis lies somewhere between optimistic and off base.
Social conservatives provide energy but no one is confusing Florida for Iowa. Fiscal conservatives worry more about the fate of small businesses, the nation’s slow economic recovery and its yawning debt and deficit. The other prominent bloc is libertarian, a group that abhors big government and government intrusion. Rev. Dozier may be upbeat about Santorum’s chances, but at the moment, all eyes in Florida’s Republican primary are on Romney and Gingrich.
Florida itself remains a difficult state for Santorum. With a population exceeding 18 million, door-to-door campaigning takes a backseat to media markets to reach voters, and media costs. After South Carolina, Santorum comes into Florida with an almost forgotten win in Iowa, a third place finish in a conservative southern state, and little resources and organization to compete effectively in Florida, where the Republican establishment largely backs Romney and what’s left leans toward Gingrich.
Enter Dozier, a disciple of the Christian Right’s D. James Kennedy who in 1985 began building his own social conservative church which now exceeds 2,000 members. Usually adorned with his trademark “fade” hairdo and pinstripe suits, Dozier is usually upbeat and unflappable. He believes he’s found a soul-mate in fellow social conservative Santorum.
Romney, he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, has three strikes against him.
“Number one, he’s a Mormon, and as a result of that 22 percent, according to a Gallup Poll in June said they would not cast a vote for a Mormon to be president of the United States,” he said. “Then you have the blacks. In order for a Republican to win the presidency, traditionally speaking, he must have at least 9 or 10 [percent] or more, of the black vote. Mitt Romney isn’t going to get that because he is a Mormon. In the heart of the Mormon religion there is this teaching that the black man was cursed. I believe that Obama’s surrogates will use that against him. The third minus is that the man is a flip flopper. Everybody knows that.”
If Santorum does rebound in Florida, the world will learn more about Rev. Dozier. It all begins with Santorum’s appearance at Rev. Dozier’s church on “Sanctity of Life Sunday.”