- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2012

Evangelical organizers from as far away as California have been quietly mining Ohio pastors and their pews for evangelical voters, hoping to tip the election Mitt Romney’s way, just as they did for President George W. Bush in 2004.

Largely ignored by the press in the 2004 campaign, those evangelical voters became the story of that year’s election, spawning a renewed emphasis by both parties on so-called “values voters.” After a big drop in turnout in 2008, they are riding under the radar again — and Republicans say their bloc could be the deciding factor.

“In 2008, too many evangelical voters stayed home and the ‘Reagan Democrats’ stayed with Barack Obama,” said Ken Blackwell, a Republican evangelical who was the Ohio secretary of state when Mr. Bush narrowly won re-election, thanks to efforts by Mr. Blackwell and others to find and motivate Christian first-time voters in Ohio, mainly in the state’s western counties.

Mr. Blackwell predicted that evangelicals this year “will surpass their 2004 turnout for Bush, and that, coupled with the movement of Reagan Democrats away from Obama, will provide Romney a winning edge.”

In 2004, Ohio was not so much a turnout election as one marking a change in the composition of the electorate. First-time religious voters targeted by the Bush campaign also came out to vote for a state referendum against gay marriage.

This year, the election in Ohio is about reactivating evangelical and Catholic voters who were missing in 2008, religious activists in the state said.

Among the army of religious forces playing roles are David Lane’s Los Angeles-based Pastors and Pews, Tony Perkins’ Washington-based Family Research Council, Ralph Reed’s Atlanta-based Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Phil Burres’ Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values.

Mr. Lane and his California associates have held several glitzy mass rallies for the state’s churchgoers featuring high-profile religious and political leaders. Mr. Lane and Mr. Reed each has produced a voter guide to distribute to Ohio’s faithful, Mr. Blackwell said.

Columbus-based pollster and Republican campaign strategist Brett A. Sciotto said he sees evidence of a major religious conservative push in his state.

“Direct mail, emails, a lot of folks saying their children are coming home from private Christian schools talking about voting for Romney and, of course, the evangelical organizations I am in touch with are all pushing Romney hard,” Mr. Sciotto said. “It is my sense, without any polling, that the Christian right is all in for Romney and [is] not holding back because of the Mormonism — simply because of the president’s stance on certain social issues.”

Mr. Sciotto said he isn’t sure the push “is as coordinated as it was in 2004, but it certainly seems like the noise level is about the same.”

During the Republican primary campaign, Mr. Romney fought suspicion among some evangelical voters over his Mormon religion, but many Christian leaders said that won’t dampen their turnout in the general election.

“Evangelicals will vote for a Mormon for president for the same reason that I did not object when a Muslim oncological surgeon recently performed surgery on my wife,” said Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego and an ally of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “I did not ask about the surgeon’s religious faith. Rather, I wanted to know if he was a skilled surgeon and understood medical issues. He did.

“Evangelicals view Romney in the same way and will vote for him in high percentages because he will lead this nation based on the right principles,” Mr. Garlow said.

Anecdotal evidence supports Mr. Garlow’s contention, but it also is true that concerns linger among some born-again Christians who think Mormonism is not a Christian religion.

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