President Obama knows what this election is about. It's about values - about whose values will govern America's future. Speaking to the Human Rights Campaign last weekend, Mr. Obama said: "I have to make sure that our side is as passionate and as motivated and is working just as hard as the folks on the other side, because this is a contest of values. This is a choice about who we are and what we stand for. And whoever wins this next election is going to set the template for this country for a long time to come."
This "contest" will be front and center at this coming weekend's Values Voter Summit. Grass-roots activists, representing one of the nation's largest voting blocs, will converge on our nation's capital to hear from the top GOP presidential candidates, who will take the stage at the sixth annual summit.
We have heard some say that this election year, candidates can safely tune out "values voters" because only the fiscal issues "really matter." But the numbers don't lie. A Barna survey from April 2011 finds that evangelicals continue to represent nearly half of Republican primary voters. Thus, they hold a significant sway over who is chosen to be the GOP presidential nominee.
Values voters are not only a large voting bloc, they are a consistent voting bloc. Barna notes, "Evangelical Christians distinguished themselves by their consistency. The issues that mattered to evangelicals in 1992 are the same issues that matter to them today." Some might pass this off as being out of touch, but as Barna explains, "Evangelicals' perspectives have remained stable, because they're based on a worldview that doesn't shift with the ebb and flow of cultural preferences and fads."
The GOP presidential candidates recognize and support these timeless values. They are all pro-life. They all support marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The candidates who have strayed from these core values have owned up to it. This is important as well, in that all candidates know they cannot win the primary, let alone the general election, without the enthusiastic support of values voters.
The Values Voter Summit will test each candidate's ability to motivate its base to get out and cast a vote in the summit's straw poll. In 2007, Gov. Mike Huckabee's strong finish at the straw poll helped push him into the top tier of candidates right before a big win at the Iowa caucuses.
In recent weeks, we've heard from "experts" who insist that a conservative candidate cannot win the White House. But given Mr. Obama's declining approval rating, it would seem that almost anyone with a heartbeat can challenge him successfully. Of the presidents who have run for re-election since World War II, none has won re-election with an approval rating below 48 percent.
Obviously, social conservatives are not alone in this election cycle. Our cousins in the Tea Party movement will be making sure that all the candidates' fiscal records match their election-time rhetoric. The winning candidate will be the Reagan-style uniter of the three cords of the conservative coalition: the strands of fiscal, social and foreign-policy conservatism.
We value the coalition and seek a candidate who will pledge to once again make America militarily strong and secure, economically prosperous and free, and socially healthy and virtuous. Barna found that voters are most likely to be influenced primarily by health care, tax policies and employment during this election cycle. The economy is hurting, and we recognize that.
But values voters also understand that big government isn't something that just happens overnight. Big government and budget deficits go hand in hand with government policies that foster a deficit of character. Strong families mean a strong economy - the hard economic data prove it.
Big government is the result of fractured family life, when mothers avoid marriage and fathers flee responsibility. Values voters understand that when the family decreases, government increases - that when the natural family is looked down upon, we will be forced to look up to big government.
I must agree with Mr. Obama: The 2012 election is going to be a contest of values. Values voters - those who understand the intersection of faith, family and freedom - are determined to win this contest. Identifying the right candidate is the first step.
Tony Perkins is president of Family Research Council Action, which hosts the Values Voter Summit.
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