The End of a Beautiful Friendship? Values Voters Reject National GOP Frontrunner Giuliani
At the Values Voter Summit’s Washington Briefing 2007 all of the Republican presidential candidates were given time try to win the support of a crowd of several thousand faithful adherents of the Religious Right movement.
The conference, organized by the Family Research Council, the political lobbying wing of child-psychologist Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, gathered evangelical groups and individuals from around the country to rally them to the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage causes and hear speeches from the candidates.
The movement has failed to coalesce around any one potential nominee yet and the prospect of them splintering away from their traditionally Republican voting record -- perhaps to a third party -- has many people both in Republican circles and the power structure of the religious right worried.
“Evangelicals have always been against suicide and a third party is political suicide,” said former Reagan domestic policy advisor and former head of the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer, a sentiment echoed by the group’s leader, Dobson, during his address to a gala dinner on Saturday.
The political union of fiscal conservatives and cultural conservatives has been an effective tool for the Republican Party since the 1970’s when Religious Right groups led a voter registration drive that gave Reagan a pool of millions of new voters. Evangelical Christian voters accounted for two-thirds of Reagan’s ten-point victory over Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. The ties have grown only stronger in the subsequent thirty years.
However, this union appears to be plagued by infighting this year -- Former New York mayor and national front-runner for the Republican nomination Rudy Giuliani was given an at-best lukewarm reception by the crowd and finished second to last in the straw poll taken at the event with just under two percent of the votes.
“My 80 percent friend is not my 100 percent enemy,” Giuliani quoted Reagan, imploring the crowd to join him despite their differences. But even if the friend is a 90 percent friend, if that other ten percent is pro-choice or ambivalent about gay marriage then they will be the 100 percent enemy of the conservative Christian community.
The pro-life stance and opposition to gay marriage are at the top of the list of concerns for the evangelical community as they pick their candidate, and were described several times as being values that these voters refuse to compromise on.
“I don’t want expediency or delectability to replace our principles and our values,” said Republican presidential hopeful and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. “There are some values to which we are committed and are non-negotiable,” said Huckabee as the crowd rose and gave him one of five standing ovations -- Giuliani brought the audience lackadaisically to their feet only as he mounted and departed from the stage.
Huckabee, a Baptist minister finished a close second to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the straw poll, taken by over 5000 people both on-line at home and in attendance at the summit.
The only cloud hanging over the head of the Romney campaign with regards to the Christian right is the matter of Romney’s faith -- he is a practicing Mormon, a conservative religious sect that many of the evangelicals view with skepticism. A 2005 article by BP News, the official news agency of the Southern Baptist Convention called Mormonism a cult and said it “has been in conflict with biblical, historic Christianity.”
The close vote in the straw poll is emblematic of the splintering of the conservative coalition and could pose a major threat to Republican hopes of winning the White House in 2008. Romney’s win by such a small number seems unlikely to deliver a significant boost to a campaign that consistently polls around ten percent in national polls, let alone the close second-place finish pushing Huckabee, who polls at about five percent nationally, over the hump and into a position to take the nomination.
If Giuliani, a strong frontrunner in the race who purports to be the best challenge to presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election, is nominated by the Republicans, the conservative Christian movement looks poised to take their support elsewhere in 2008 -- taking one of the party’s most crucial voting blocs with them.
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