October 28, 2006
Still God’s Own Party
UPDATED 10/29/06: Newsweek recently made much of a poll that showed 60% of white evangelicals supporting the Republican candidate in their district, compared with 31% who said they would back the Democrat. The poll, Newsweek suggested, showed that “the Republican base may be cracking”—in 2004 Republicans carried white evangelicals three to one over Democrats, winning 74% of their votes.
What Newsweak fails to understand is that hell will have to freeze over for evangelicals to desert the Republicans on polling day—as an article in today’s (subscription-only) Wall Street Journal makes all too clear:
SHARONVILLE, Ohio—If Republicans still have an ace up their sleeve in this fall campaign, it’s people like Phil Burress.
Mr. Burress, a thrice-married, self-described former pornography addict, is president of Citizens for Community Values, a statewide network of politically active Christian conservatives. His work here in 2004 helped turn out evangelical voters who put President Bush over the top in Ohio—the state that made the difference between victory and defeat.
This time around, Mr. Burress isn’t nearly so happy with the president and his party. In fact, he can hardly say enough about how fed up he is with Republicans from Colum-
bus to Washington for not following through on promised social initiatives. He is especially exercised about Ohio’s Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, who incensed conservatives last year by helping to broker a compromise with Democrats over confirming the president’s judicial nominees.
So what is his advice to others? Hold your nose and vote. And that includes voting for Mr. DeWine, whose fate could determine whether Republicans keep control of the Senate.
That attitude represents an important firewall for the Republican Party at a time when most polls and independent analysts forecast big midterm election losses Nov. 7, threatening the party’s majorities in Congress, the governorships and some state legislatures. Republicans worry that religious conservatives, so critical to Republicans’ wins of recent years, will stay home this time.
But a look at the movement in Ohio suggests otherwise. The turnout machine that has pulled evangelical conservatives to the polls in massive numbers is churning away, and for a reason little appreciated outside their circles: the sense that voting is their Christian duty. Ron Martin, pastor of Cincinnati’s Central Parkway Ministries just south of here, is typical when he tells his church members, worn Bible in hand, “You have a moral obligation to vote.” And because such voters’ litmus-test issues are abortion and gay marriage, that typically means vote Republican.
Earlier this month, Mr. Burress’s organization sent a million voter guides to 7,500 churches statewide for distribution in Sunday bulletins. The guide refers voters to the group’s election Web site, where they can type their zip code and see all candidates who will be on their ballots, alongside each candidate’s stance on abortion, marriage, pornography and other social issues. Those guides are based on candidates’ responses to a questionnaire. Many Democrats, and moderate Republicans, didn’t respond; the site notes that.
The 64-year-old Mr. Burress is an essential player in the Bush-era Republican Party’s vaunted get-out-the-vote machine. In 2004, he led the drive to put on the Ohio ballot a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions. Then he put his organization, based in this conservative Cincinnati suburb, to work registering tens of thousands of new voters to support the amendment.
Those voters turned out and, by and large, also cast ballots for President Bush.
To help things along this year, the religious crazies have been handed a last-minute gift by the New Jersey Supreme Court:
Now, late in this year’s campaigns, a new controversy over gay marriage is energizing conservative Christian voters. New Jersey’s Supreme Court, in a closely watched case, on Wednesday declared the state has to give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as those granted to married heterosexuals. Within an hour of the news, the ruling set off a series of conference calls among Christian conservative leaders, including Mr. Burress.
“In the Christian conservative movement, it’s created a shock wave,” says Harry Jackson Jr., a Pentecostal bishop in Lanham, Md. He, like Mr. Burress, is a board member of the Arlington Group, a national network of conservative religious leaders. “This is probably the best possible thing that could have happened to the moral values movement two weeks before the election,” he says.
But Republican candidates—along with “former pornography addicts”—apparently don’t need to demonstrate their “moral values:”
James Dobson, one of Christian conservatives’ foremost national leaders, has held rallies in several cities this fall. In St. Paul, Minn., just after the Foley news broke, he said it made for “a hard day” and he remained “very irritated and disappointed with the Republican Party” for failing to deliver on conservatives’ issues. But he urged 2,000-plus listeners, “If you can find a politician who understands the institution of the family...it would be a sin not to vote for him.”
His group, Focus on the Family, and another, the Family Research Council, recently released a “Vote Scorecard” for Congress, rating members based on their stances on abortion, judicial nominations, gay marriage and stem-cell research. Every embattled Senate Republican save one—Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island—is given a perfect score. So are many at-risk House Republicans.
As I’ve said before, so much for the Establishment Clause.
If you have a subscription to the Journal—and low enough blood pressure—the entire article is worth reading.
UPDATE: AP has more on this story, and gets a little closer to reality than Newsweak.
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