The Skimmer

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Alexander Ho for TIME

From Bible Belt to Sunbelt

By Darren Dochuk Norton; 520 pages

In the heat of the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama and John McCain journeyed to Pastor Rick Warren's Orange County, California, megachurch for a candidate forum in front of thousands of conservative Evangelicals. Theologically, Warren and his congregants were of a piece with the old revival preachers of the Deep South. Their style, however, was laid-back Californian. In From Bible Belt to Sunbelt, historian Darren Dochuk traces the migration of Evangelicals in the mid-1900s to the land of starlets and surfers and from the margins of society to the inner circles of Presidents. It is an exhaustive history brimming with lively characters. And Dochuk uses the tale to advance the intriguing argument that these Evangelicals encountered California as a modern-day Sodom and were prompted to political engagement that led to the growth of the religious right. Less explored is another side of the story: Why did the GOP join forces with Evangelicals? It's a question still being asked by some dyspeptic leaders of the party as they deal with the consequences of that union in the form of Sarah Palin and her supporters.