dobson.jpgFrom the New York Times today (read complete article on page 2):

Alarmed at the possibility that the Republican Party might pick Rudolph Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate.

The threat emerged from a group that broke away for separate discussions at a meeting Saturday…. Participants said the smaller group included James Dobson (pictured right) … Tony Perkins (pictured on page 2)… and dozens of other politically oriented conservative Christians….

Almost everyone present… expressed support for a written resolution stating that “if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third-party candidate”….
The participants said that the group chose the qualified term “consider” because it had not yet identified an alternative candidate, but that it was largely united in its plans to bolt the party if Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, became the nominee….
A revolt of Christian conservative leaders could be a significant setback to the Giuliani campaign because white evangelical Protestants make up a major share of Republican primary voters….
But the threat is risky for the leaders of the Christian conservative movement as well. Some of its usual grass-roots supporters might still back a supporter of abortion rights like Mr. Giuliani, either because they dislike the Democratic nominee even more or because they are more concerned with other issues, like the war….
Gary Bauer… urged the group to proceed with caution. “I can’t think of a bigger disaster for social conservatives, defense conservatives and economic conservatives than Hillary Clinton in the White House,” Mr. Bauer said.
He added, “But I do believe there are certain core issues for the Republican Party – low taxes, strong defense and pro-life – and if we nominate someone who is hostile on one of those three things it will blow up the GOP.”…

perkins.jpg

For months, Christian conservatives have been escalating warnings that nominating Mr. Giuliani could splinter the party….
Participants in the group that endorsed the resolution said they had reached their position after hearing an assessment of the state of the Republican primary from Mr. Perkins… [who] told them that Mr. Giuliani could plausibly win the primary if he carried Florida, which has many conservative Christian voters, and that now was the best chance to stop any momentum behind his campaign.

And from the Los Angeles Times today (read complete article below):

Barely three months before the voting for a new president begins, the religious right has yet to unite behind a Republican candidate, heightening concerns among evangelical leaders that social liberal Rudolph Giuliani will capture the party’s nomination.
The splintering of religious conservatives, if it endures, could ease the way for New York’s former mayor to emerge as the party’s first nominee to explicitly support abortion rights since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in 1973.
But the lack of a consensus choice for president is only one of the troubles facing conservative evangelicals, a powerful force within the GOP for more than a generation.
“It’s low tide right now for our movement,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Assn.

[Photos courtesy of NYT]
New York Times
October 1, 2007
Giuliani Inspires Threat of a Third-Party Run
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 – Alarmed at the possibility that the Republican Party might pick Rudolph W. Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate.
The threat emerged from a group that broke away for separate discussions at a meeting Saturday in Salt Lake City of the Council for National Policy, a secretive conservative networking group. Participants said the smaller group included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps its most influential member; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Richard A. Viguerie, the direct-mail pioneer; and dozens of other politically oriented conservative Christians.
Almost everyone present at the smaller group’s meeting expressed support for a written resolution stating that “if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third-party candidate,” participants said.
The participants said that the group chose the qualified term “consider” because it had not yet identified an alternative candidate, but that it was largely united in its plans to bolt the party if Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, became the nominee. The participants spoke on condition of anonymity because the Council for National Policy meeting and the smaller meeting were secret, but they said members of the smaller group intended to publicize the resolution.
A revolt of Christian conservative leaders could be a significant setback to the Giuliani campaign because white evangelical Protestants make up a major share of Republican primary voters, including more than a third of voters in Iowa and South Carolina.
But the threat is risky for the leaders of the Christian conservative movement as well. Some of its usual grass-roots supporters might still back a supporter of abortion rights like Mr. Giuliani, either because they dislike the Democratic nominee even more or because they are more concerned with other issues, like the war.
In recent polls by the Pew Research Center, Mr. Giuliani has received a plurality of support from white evangelical Protestant voters despite a rising chorus of complaints from Christian conservative leaders about his liberal views on social issues.
Some players in the movement not present at the meeting may be open to Mr. Giuliani as the lesser of two evils. For example, the Christian Broadcast Network, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, has provided relatively generous coverage to Mr. Giuliani and his campaign.
Gary L. Bauer, a Christian conservative political advocate who was a Republican primary candidate eight years ago, said that, speaking by phone to the meeting, he urged the group to proceed with caution. “I can’t think of a bigger disaster for social conservatives, defense conservatives and economic conservatives than Hillary Clinton in the White House,” Mr. Bauer said.
He added, “But I do believe there are certain core issues for the Republican Party – low taxes, strong defense and pro-life – and if we nominate someone who is hostile on one of those three things it will blow up the G.O.P.”
In response to the Christian conservatives, a spokeswoman for the Giuliani campaign provided a statement from Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who supports Mr. Giuliani, saying, “Conservatives are rallying around the one candidate with the executive experience and proven leadership our country needs.” Calling Mr. Giuliani strong on fighting terrorism and “fiscal discipline,” Mr. Sessions said Republicans want a candidate who “can beat the Democratic nominee.”
For months, Christian conservatives have been escalating warnings that nominating Mr. Giuliani could splinter the party. Dr. Dobson wrote a column declaring that he would waste his vote before casting it for either Mr. Giuliani or a Democrat who supports abortion rights, like Mrs. Clinton, of New York. Some conservatives also noted that Mr. Giuliani has been divorced twice and married three times and is estranged from his children.
Participants in the group that endorsed the resolution said they had reached their position after hearing an assessment of the state of the Republican primary from Mr. Perkins, who acts as a point man in Washington for the movement. Mr. Perkins told them that Mr. Giuliani could plausibly win the primary if he carried Florida, which has many conservative Christian voters, and that now was the best chance to stop any momentum behind his campaign.
_______________
The Los Angeles Times
Christian right is split over GOP field
Conservative evangelicals haven’t found a perfect fit among the Republican presidential candidates – and that could benefit social liberal Giuliani.
By Michael Finnegan
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 1, 2007
WASHINGTON – Barely three months before the voting for a new president begins, the religious right has yet to unite behind a Republican candidate, heightening concerns among evangelical leaders that social liberal Rudolph W. Giuliani will capture the party’s nomination.
The splintering of religious conservatives, if it endures, could ease the way for New York’s former mayor to emerge as the party’s first nominee to explicitly support abortion rights since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in 1973.
But the lack of a consensus choice for president is only one of the troubles facing conservative evangelicals, a powerful force within the GOP for more than a generation.
“It’s low tide right now for our movement,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Assn.
Opportunities for the religious right to press its agenda suffered a blow when Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress in last year’s midterm election.
Making matters worse are sex scandals besetting Republicans who have championed family values, most recently Sens. Larry E. Craig of Idaho and David Vitter of Louisiana. Their troubles — after the sex scandal last fall involving then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) that contributed to the GOP’s midterm losses — have diminished enthusiasm for the party among many social conservatives.
Also hobbling the religious right is the decline of the Christian Coalition of America. A mobilizing force in the 1990s, the South Carolina-based group has suffered financial setbacks and now plays a marginal role in Republican politics.
At the same time, evangelical leaders are roiled in internal debate over whether to broaden their agenda beyond opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Some argue that they have a responsibility to also fight poverty, AIDS and global warming.
“The old Christian right that automatically could be mobilized against a few issues — that movement is being diluted,” said the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, whose appointment as Christian Coalition president was cut short last year amid an outcry over his push to widen the group’s focus.
In the presidential race, several of the lower-tier candidates have cast themselves as staunch supporters of the Christian right’s priorities — most obviously Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. But few observers see those candidates’ prospects as realistic. And many social conservatives have doubts about the higher-profile contenders vying with Giuliani.
“There’s just no enthusiasm for this crop of first-tier candidates,” said Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative activist and author. “Not one of them is a principled conservative, so why support them?”
Leaders of Christian conservative groups are threatening to back a third-party candidate in an attempt to stop Giuliani from winning the nomination, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Some evangelical leaders hoped that former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee could be their standard-bearer. But his early stumbles have raised doubts about his capacity to rally support. And some evangelical leaders have questioned his commitment to battling same-sex marriage and abortion.
James C. Dobson, one of the country’s most influential evangelicals, told allies in a recent e-mail that Thompson could not “speak his way out of a paper bag.”
“He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent ‘want to,’ ” the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family wrote. “And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!”
Also vying for the backing of the evangelical community is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. His heavy spending on TV ads in Iowa, where religious conservatives dominate the GOP caucuses that traditionally launch the nomination contest, has vaulted him to the front-runner’s spot in polls there.
But he is still struggling to surmount guardedness toward his Mormon faith and his switch to conservative stands on abortion, gay rights and other matters after campaigning in Massachusetts as a moderate on social issues.
“He’s come to a lot of those positions late, and there’s a lot of concern that he’s come to those positions only for political convenience,” said Danielle Vinson, associate professor of political science at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
Another Republican, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, seems a natural fit for evangelicals: An ordained Southern Baptist minister, he has deep ties to the religious right. But Huckabee’s lackluster fundraising so far has made it tough to convince many that he is a viable contender.
For Christian conservatives, a GOP loss of the White House would end eight years of advances under President Bush. He has put two conservatives on the Supreme Court, signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, imposed restrictions on stem-cell research, and put political muscle to work for state bans on same-sex marriage.
Some evangelical leaders expect Christian conservatives to rally behind one Republican alternative to Giuliani once the field of candidates narrows.
Even if Democrats take the White House and keep control of Congress, the religious right is sure to maintain significant clout within the GOP. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in June found that 31% of Republicans identified themselves as part of the religious right.
“This is not an auspicious historical moment for the Republican Party or social conservatives, but they will continue to be a formidable force,” said political scientist Ted G. Jelen of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Giuliani has remained the leader in national polls of Republican voters in part by showing wider appeal than many anticipated, given his record on social issues (as well as his three marriages). A Gallup survey released Friday found he was the top choice among Republicans who attended church at least once a week.
As the race proceeds, a key question is whether concern among evangelicals over national security could lead many to overlook disagreements with Giuliani. Many have ranked national security as a priority since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and terrorism is the core issue in Giuliani’s campaign.
Also in the mix: which candidate stands the best shot at defeating Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), should she win the Democratic nomination.
“Perhaps more than ever, electability is part of the thing that social conservatives are weighing, because the prospect of Hillary Clinton is so disturbing to them,” said Gary Bauer, a conservative activist who ran for president in 2000. “They’re looking for both the candidate who is closest to their views but also the candidate that they credibly think can win.”
Giuliani argues that he fits that bill, even as Bauer and others continue scouting for someone else.
For now, some key evangelical leaders say religious conservatives must soon join forces to back Romney, Thompson or another candidate — whatever his flaws — to stop Giuliani.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the early caucuses and primaries in January would show whether conservative evangelicals understood “that politics is the art of the possible, and you don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
“Sometimes,” he said, “three-quarters of a loaf is better than none.”
michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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