“I hope pro-family, pro-life Christians will continue to keep an open mind about Senator Thompson’s candidacy, even as we work with him to strengthen his stand on some key issues,” Mr. Bauer wrote in an e-mail addressed to supporters. “A Thompson vs. Hillary [Clinton] race would be an easy call for me to make.”
Although it is short of a formal endorsement, another Christian conservative leader said the appeal by the head of the Campaign for Working Families breaks an earlier agreement among top social conservatives to not publicly favor or oppose any candidate until Oct. 21.
The leaders will likely endorse a candidate after a Values Voters Summit on Oct. 20, where all nine Republican candidates are expected to address the conference in separate speeches.
Mr. Bauer’s move drew criticism from Dr. Randy Brinson, chairman of Redeem the Vote, a group trying to register churchgoing young people as voters.
“The release of an implied endorsement of Senator Thompson by Gary Bauer is totally against the spirit of the accord made by the majority of political active Christian conservative groups,” Dr. Brinson said.
The disagreement is part of a behind-the-scenes struggle among Christian conservatives over whom to endorse for the 2008 nomination — Mr. Thompson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (the only ordained minister and evangelical social conservative in the race) or another Republican candidate.
James Dobson, one of the most influential evangelicals on the political right, has questioned whether Mr. Thompson would define himself as a born-again Christian.
Mr. Bauer and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that while Mr. Thompson is not a regular churchgoer, neither was Ronald Reagan, an icon of the religious right.
During a meeting of religious conservatives last month, some group leaders moved to support Mr. Huckabee, leading to a “panic” among such high-profile organizations as Mr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Mr. Perkins’ Family Research Council, Dr. Brinson said.
“The fear was that conservatives would rally behind Huckabee and that the Dobson and Perkins organizations would become irrelevant,” he said.
“For merely suggesting Christians ought to consider Fred Thompson and that I would vote for him over Clinton, Dr. Brinson imagines conspiracies and starts hyperventilating,” Mr. Bauer told The Washington Times.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bauer and Mr. Perkins criticized elements of Mr. Huckabee’s foreign policy views.
Mr. Perkins said during a Christian Science Monitor press breakfast that although Mr. Huckabee is good on all social issues, “he has not seemed to have found solid footing on the issue of the threat, internationally, from radical Islam. There is some concern there about that issue.”
Asked what Mr. Huckabee had said to elicit concern, Mr. Perkins said that in a Republican candidates’ debate, the former Arkansas governor “made the statement that we broke Iraq.”