- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

DALLAS As the fall campaign season nears, politicians are already setting their sights on the faithful, particularly in the home state of proudly Christian President Bush.
Few places have a more potent mix of faith and politics than Texas, where churches sprout up along lonely stretches of highway as frequently as mesquite bushes and Dairy Queens.
This year, candidates in Texas races are making not-so-subtle Bible Belt appeals to move voters from the pews to the voting booths.
Evangelical Christians solidified their grip on the state Republican Party in June. The GOP adopted a document condemning abortion and homosexuality and pledging to "restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States and dispel the myth of the separation of church and state."
Democrats, who don't hold a single statewide office, would not be outdone. A week later, they outlined their vision for Texas, saying it should be a place where all people can achieve their "God-given potential," noting that their party also supports prayer, "including the recognized right of public school students to a 'moment of silence.'"
"I do think that a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats in this state are churchgoing," said Samantha Smoot, head of the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network, a critic of the religious right.
The Texas Christian Coalition will distribute more than 1 million voter guides in the state this year. The state has 12.2 million registered voters.
The conservative organization, which does not endorse candidates, will focus on the races for governor, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate races, said Mike Hannesschlager, executive director of the Bedford-based group.
"Christian voters can make the difference for one candidate or the other," he said.
Miss Smoot said that her organization doesn't object to talk of faith as part of political campaigns but that it is angered when candidates insist that one religion holds a monopoly on the truth and "when there's a presumption that to be godly means to be supporting a political agenda that is narrow and extreme."
The Republican ticket is led by Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he wants to advance the cause of his faith. His Democratic opponent, Roman Catholic Tony Sanchez, said he attends Mass and takes Holy Communion twice a week. Mr. Sanchez is trying to become the state's first Catholic governor.
School prayer emerged as a top issue after Mr. Perry joined others in prayer last fall at an East Texas public school. He was criticized by opponents of public school prayer which has been banned by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Mr. Sanchez's support for a "moment of silence" each day in school essentially ended the matter as a campaign issue, said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Although abortion has limited relevance for state government, the issue gets attention.
Mr. Sanchez and fellow Catholic John Sharp, who is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, favor keeping abortion legal, in opposition to Catholic teaching.
Mr. Sanchez would not comment on his differences with the church, saying only that Catholic officials should explain their views on their own and individual Catholics "can either agree with them or not."
Greg Abbott, a Republican candidate for attorney general, cites his Catholic faith to explain his opposition to abortion.
Matthew Wilson, assistant professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Mr. Perry's stance on abortion and support for other top issues for the Christian right will help put him ahead with evangelical Christians.
"There would be no reason for them to look at Tony Sanchez," Mr. Wilson said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Buchanan said Mr. Sanchez's position is in line with Texas Democrats' middle-of-the-road agenda.
"He's on the side of pro-choice, and that's where the centrist voters are," Mr. Buchanan said.
Black churches figured prominently in the frenzied days of the primary runoff between Democrats Ron Kirk and Victor Morales for their party's U.S. Senate nomination.
Mr. Kirk, a member of a predominantly black Methodist church in Dallas, won that contest after stumping at several houses of worship. He will continue to visit black churches considered Democratic havens and other churches as part of his general-election strategy, his spokesman Justin Lonon said.
His Republican opponent, John Cornyn, a member of the Church of Christ, has also appeared before Jewish and Muslim audiences, spokesman Dave Beckwith pointed out.
"He thinks the Judeo-Christian tradition is an important part of our history," Mr. Beckwith said, "but he does not proselytize."

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