Jesus didn’t help Bill Beardsley.

That’s not intended as a negative reflection on the Son of God, who can’t be held responsible for the deficiencies in Beardsley’s early campaign style. The Republican gubernatorial candidate and former president of Husson University stumbled through a month or so of Bible-thumping his way into his stump speech, until he finally learned that his religious beliefs were of less interest to voters than his plans for the state’s economy, environment and education.

By relegating Christ to the back room at campaign headquarters — where He’s said to be doing a fine job sealing envelopes, answering phones and supplying free wine, loaves and fishes for staff parties — Beardsley has resurrected himself from the crypt of ineptness and been transformed into a serious contender for the GOP nomination.

Beardsley’s campaign got off to a lousy start, although that had nothing to do with his propensity to talk about religion. It was because he waited until mid-January to announce he was running — late for a guy with limited name recognition and no political track record — and then doing so in Dover-Foxcroft, the least auspicious location for such an event since ex-Democratic hopeful Dawn Hill made the announcement that she was a candidate for Maine governor in a New Hampshire newspaper.

Beardsley appeared to have no obvious constituency in the Republican Party. He was socially conservative, but Waterville Mayor Paul LePage had already staked out that territory.

He was close to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, but her former chief of staff, Steve Abbott, was in the race, and he was even closer.

He was a political outsider with a business background, but Bruce Poliquin, Les Otten and Matt Jacobson were trying to exploit that routine for all it was worth.

He was smart, but nobody’s smarter than Peter Mills. And since when did being smart become a requirement for governors?

Although a certain amount of common sense doesn’t hurt. As one poster on the As Maine Goes Web site put it, “Have we forgotten what the Dems did to [GOP gubernatorial nominee] Chandler Woodcock in 2006? They made him out to be someone that led with his Christianity and conservative social views. Beardsley actually does that.”

This was shortly after Beardsley had appeared on an extremist radio show in Aroostook County, where he told listeners his son had to find work elsewhere because Maine “wasn’t Christian enough.”

Jesus may well have wept, but Beardsley’s political advisers just sighed and called him into the woodshed for a little discussion about his tactics. It was time, they told him, to focus on a core message of smaller, less intrusive government and to leave Christianity to the subtext.

At about the same time, the campaign landscape began to shift. LePage, the first choice of many conservatives, kept saying contradictory stuff indicating he might support civil unions for gay people. His right-wing base began shifting uneasily in their seats, before edging slowly toward the door.

LePage also didn’t seem to be raising significant money, causing his more pragmatic supporters to follow the anti-same-sex-marriage crowd into the hall, where they milled about in confusion until they noticed this other guy: The improved (but fundamentally unchanged) Beardsley.

He was no longer thumping Bibles, but he did manage to get the idea across. He started his speeches by noting he still went to the church “where my parents got married.”

Every now and then, while talking about changing environmental laws to allow increased harvesting of Maine’s forests, he’d slip in something about being God’s stewards of the land. “It’s that tradition we’ve got to preserve,” he told an interviewer at As Maine Goes.

On a Portland radio show, he subtly mentioned, “I think I’m more socially conservative than most of the candidates.”

Message received.

“Some LePage heavies are already jumping ship,” claimed one Tea Party activist in a recent e-mail, “and if the money numbers I’ve heard floating around are confirmed April 27th [the next reporting deadline for campaign finances], there is going to be a sea change in conservative base opinion as to who to support.”

Abbott and Poliquin are probably the front-runners in the crowded Republican field, with the former touting his extensive experience in government and the latter promoting his complete lack thereof.

Beardsley is offering himself as the best of both, a combination that makes him appear well qualified to be governor. He’s worked in state jobs, both low and high, in Vermont, Alaska and Maine, but also has extensive private-sector experience in banking, utilities and education.

He takes full credit for turning bankrupt Husson College into dynamic Husson University over the last two decades, and few would argue with his claim.

He’s also got a friend in … you know, the guy in the back room he doesn’t talk about.

You can pray to God, but to reach me, e-mail makes more sense. It’s