MINNEAPOLIS — Some national Republican Party officials worry that their party is moving away from its conservative stands on social and religious issues in preparation for the 2008 elections.
"Evangelical and pro-life Catholics are a critical part of the GOP's electoral coalition," said James Bopp Jr., an Indiana member of the Republican National Committee, which Saturday concluded its four-day annual summer meeting here.
"The GOP cannot win in 2008 without their enthusiastic support," Mr. Bopp said. "It remains to be seen whether the GOP is moving away from them. Whether the GOP is doing so will be determined by who is nominated for president."
Rhode Island RNC member Robert Manning suggested the Republican Party is moving away from social conservatism, but called it a wise tactical move.
"There's an awareness among the national committee that the issues which are of dominant importance to a broad section of voters are tending toward national security and economics and less the social-religious issues that were dominant in prior campaigns," Mr. Manning said.
That shift, he argued, does not represent a threat to the electoral success of Republicans in 2008.
"If the party has its headlights on, it responds to issues that concern a majority of voters," Mr. Manning said. "That's how you craft successful platforms, and that's what candidates build successful candidacies around."
Mr. Manning said that at the presidential level, people vote first for the leadership qualities of the candidate and below that for the economic and national security policies of these leaders. People, he said, judge social issues in a third tier of decision-making.
Most RNC members either swore they would not let the national party distance itself from religious and social conservatives stands or saw no indications of that happening.
"Not as long as I'm in this party," said longtime Oklahoma RNC member Bunny Chambers.
Michigan Republican Chairman Saul Anuzis said the party is not drifting from its social conservatism.
"The religious right and social conservatives are still a very big part of the party and will be for a long time to come," Mr. Anuzis said. "The Democrat policies clearly are antithetical to what religious and social conservatives believe in. The left that controls the Democratic Party is very much pro-choice on abortion and anti-traditional marriage."
Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere, who described himself as conservative but not part of the religious conservative movement, said there's a strong group of social conservatives within the party and "we are working constantly to keep it on the right path."
Regarding the role of Protestant evangelicals and pro-life Catholics in the party's electoral coalition, Mr. Villere said, "We need their support in order to win."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the only Republican presidential candidate to appear in person at the gathering, drew rave reviews from many members for his address Friday.
Some Republicans wonder what will happen to the party's electoral coalition if Rudolph W. Giuliani is the nominee. The former New York mayor has been ambivalent about the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade and calls the decision to have an abortion "deeply personal."
"Nominating Giuliani would seriously jeopardize the support of evangelicals and pro-life Catholics and would trigger a fight within the GOP on the pro-life plank and other matters related to social issues that would cripple the party," Mr. Bopp said.
But Gary Jones, the new chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said the base probably would remain intact because "whether the nominee is Mr. Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, he would be more attractive to social and religious conservatives than any likely Democratic nominee."
Mr. Anuzis said if Mr. Giuliani won the nomination, it would not threaten the support of religious and social conservatives because they understand the most important thing is the president's appointing the right kind of federal judges. He noted that Mr. Giuliani has assembled conservative advisers on judicial appointments.