I appreciate the stance of pastors like Perry Noble, who said that he will not endorse any presidential candidate. He went so far as to say:

And…let me be honest, to ANY church and/or pastor that does do political endorsements…you are a prostitute that has sold out the Gospel of Christ is exchange for four more years of promises and predictions. STOP IT!

Ouch! But I think he makes a distinction clear between the necessity of Christian involvement in politics, with the subjugation of the spread of the Gospel to victories at the ballot box for an ideology. As Chuck Colson said, “…the greatest enemy of the Gospel is ideology.”

So, trying to balance that fine line, I’m going to give my thoughts on the candidates as I see them now. I have no real insight, just thought I would share my own struggles at evaluating the current crop. My thoughts and grades reflect only my possibility in voting for that candidate at this moment.

Mike Huckabee – Right on the social issues, but questionable on many others. Doesn’t know enough about foreign policy, but that could change with time (plus he’s not alone in that regard). Has executive experience, but only as the governor of a small Southern state. Needs money and organization to go along with enthusiasm. Has the charisma to win over non-evangelicals, even non-Republicans, but I don’t think the media will let that happen. My grade: B-

To win the nomination: Continue showcasing his strengths as a campaigner, get his face and name out as much as possible, hope that all the social conservatives break for him and pick up the majority of the early voting states to try to use momentum to swing him past Rudy in the moderate states voting later. His must win state is SC.

Rudy Giuliani – Wrong on the social issues, strong on national security and “leadership.” Must demonstrate that he is capable of campaigning beyond 9/11. Has to show that leading a city (even though it is one of the largest in the world) prepares one for leading the nation. Needs enthusiasm to go along with money and organization. My grade: C-

To win the nomination: Hope that Huckabee, Romney, McCain and Thompson all stay in the race and split the early primaries and the momentum between them, leaving him poised to run the table on Super Tuesday. Must assuage the fears of social-cons and demonstrate that he is the one who can beat the Democrat nominee. His must win state is FL.

John McCain – Right on some issues, complete opposite of the base on others. Has to play up experience (even though that’s a losing hand this campaign). Needs both money and momentum. Focus on the issues where his “Maverickiness” plays to the base: his staunch war support, spending cuts; not the areas where he disagrees with them: immigration, Gitmo, campaign finance. My grade: C

To win the nomination: Win New Hampshire and hope it gives him more of a bounce than it did in 2000. He also needs for Rudy’s strategy to backfire and for him to be an afterthought come Feb. He also must hope that Republicans, unlike Democrats, are looking for experience instead of change. His must win state is NH.

Mitt Romney – Basically agrees with the GOP base on every issue and that’s part of his problem. Comes across as managed, not genuine, seems very plastic. Has switched on virtually every issue, must convince voters that the switch is for real and not for political gain. Has plenty of real world business experience and executive political experience. My grade: C+

To win the nomination: Doesn’t have to win NH, but needs it. If he loses NH, he must win Michigan. He has the money to go until the end, but that can’t always buy you momentum and good press, which he needs to find somewhere. He needs to see the GOP remember why they voted against McCain in 2000, why Rudy and Huckabee will “split the party” and why Fred doesn’t have the “fire.” In other words, he has to go negative, which may not work well. Must win: MI

Fred Thompson – Probably the strongest, most consistent conservative in the race, but his unorthodox campaign strategy has backfired somewhat. Got in the race too late. Didn’t live up to initial expectations and has been trying to recover ever since. Is the most knowledgeable candidate on policy issues, but, somewhat surprisingly for the actor, has been horrible on the campaign trial. Needs both momentum and money in the worst way. Has to overcome the image that he doesn’t really want to win and he is not willing to work hard enough to become president. My grade: B

To win the nomination: A lot of things have to break for Fred to pull it out. He needs McCain to win NH and Romney to grab MI, leaving three winners and no clear-cut conservative choice heading into SC. He should live in SC until the primary, trying to convince voters that he is the one true conservative. Hopes conservatives see their party coming apart at the seems, so they not only vote for him, but donate and volunteer. Must win: SC

Ron Paul – Not considered a top-tier candidate, but brings in huge amounts of online donations and independent voters, more at home with Libertarians than Republicans. Needs to champion his tax cutting ways and smaller government. Stay away from his somewhat kooky foreign policy ideas. Must rein in some of his supporters who are an eclectic group to say the least. My grade: low C-

To win the nomination: Spend those millions that came in wisely, build up name recognition, hope your kookier supporters shut up for awhile, tread water until then and hope you can ride a wave of internet supporter. Must win: Anywhere

Other candidates – Not important, sadly for some who are good, qualified candidates.

Barack Obama – Fantastic campaigner, inspiring speaker, but dreadfully weak on issues (What does it say when his own website says his foreign policy plan “doesn’t seem to exist?”) Should continue to run on vague ideas and themes like “hope,” “change” “beyond partisanship” while “hoping” that no one really pays attention to policy issues or his voting record, which is more liberal than Hillary’s. My grade: D+

To win the nomination: Keep pilling up wins because Hillary will take some (if not a lot) on Super Tuesday. Work to keep her down, while still seeming above the fray. Hope that whatever dirt her team digs up will backfire on her, as it already has. Must win: NH and SC

Hillary Clinton – Has the best overall political machine behind her, Organization should help on Super Tuesday when candidates can’t spend so much time in one state, Prove she is genuine and not calculated (and not by crying), Must bring Obama down, while keeping her fingerprints off, Point out Obama’s inexperience as often as possible. In much the same boat as Romney, she has to go negative to bring others down, but that move is risky in a primary when voters can go somewhere else. My grade: D-

To win the nomination: Hope John Edwards stays in as long as possible, keeping votes away from Obama, Try to find a way to attack Obama without “attacking” him. Work to defuse the “change” issue and re-convince people of her electability and her inevitability. Must win: Big on Super Tuesday

John Edwards – Most liberal of all the candidates, Needs to turn out the “angry” vote, Somehow out “change” Obama, while working to get people angry instead of hopeful, Those that buy into hope are going to Obama, Hope that the class warfare pitch will play well somewhere for him to pick up a win and some needed donations. My grade: F-

To win the nomination: Only two real chances, hope that Hillary decides to go nuclear on Obama in a last ditch effort and takes herself out in the process, hope that Hillary drops out before Super Tuesday and Democrats suddenly get cold feet with Obama over his lack of experience and actual policy proposals (not that Edwards has much more experience). Must win: SC, unless the one of the above happens

Other candidates – Not a real factor for the top spot, either campaigning for the VP nod or because the space aliens over Shirley McClain’s house told them to.