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'Value Voters' Are as Split Over Issues
as They Are on Candidates
BY ADELLE M. BANKS and DANIEL BURKE ©2007 Religion News Service
illiam and Lyra Hoeft of Florida say they want a president who will "hold our borders" and protect national security. Joe Guarino of Illinois wants someone who will tackle health care. And Jonathan Bell of Arkansas, a recent home-school graduate, says education tops his list.
They all agree on one thing: They're looking for a (Republican) candidate who can win the White House. Where these evangelicals split is on which issues will be able to move voters out of the pews and into the polls.
Picking a candidate has been hard enough, evangelical political activists say. But it's gotten harder because their big unifying issues--abortion and gay marriage--are competing with bread-and-butter issues like the economy, education, and immigration.
"When evangelicals get up in the morning, they have the same concerns that everybody else has," said Dr. Randy Brinson, 50, chairman of Redeem the Vote, an Alabama-based organization that aims to motivate young evangelical voters. "Can I buy gas? Can I afford groceries? Can I afford my kids' education? Am I safe?"
While the rank-and-file may have a broad portfolio of issues shaping their votes, more senior leaders of the evangelical movement still know how to fire up the crowd with threats of abortion and gay marriage.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson did just that on October 20 during the Values Voter Summit here, bringing hundreds of evangelicals to their feet with his promise that "we will not turn our backs on 45 million unborn children whose blood calls out to us." Noting that he was speaking for himself, not any organization, Dobson also called for traditional marriage not to be thrown "on the ash heap of history."
Donald Wildmon, chairman of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, said conservative Christians may be more public about their interests in a range of issues, but abortion and gay marriage "are just the two top issues."
Newer generations of evangelicals, on the other hand, refuse to be pinned down to just one or two. Though abortion and "same-sex `marriage'" topped a straw poll question on the main issue of values voters, some participants skipped that question altogether.
"I look at the whole agenda of an individual," said Greg Fraley, 40, mayor of Greenville, Ohio, and a former minister who has been impressed with both former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. "I'm not a one-issue person. ... I want somebody who can lead America and defend America, who can help our economy and at the same time ... be strong on family issues."
Pamela Agava, 23, an executive assistant at the Maryland-based High Impact Leadership Coalition, seemed to agree. "To be hard-line on only one or two issues, I don't think that's possible for my generation," said Agava, whose coalition seeks to bridge gaps and build alliances between black and white evangelicals. "We really have to decide on the total package and not be caught up in three issues of `yes/no' or `either/or.'"
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who generates deep skepticism among religious conservatives for his support of abortion rights, came looking to mend fences, but the clear winners were Romney and Huckabee, who could each claim victory from the summit's straw poll. Among those attending the summit, Huckabee trounced Romney, 51 percent to 10 percent. But people were also allowed to vote online, and Romney edged out Huckabee by 27.6 percent to 27.2 percent. (Online voters had to pay at least $1 to vote and become members of FRC Action, the legislative arm of the Washington-based Family Research Council.)
--Sarah More McCann also contributed to this report.