- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

Potential Republican presidential candidates spent the weekend revving up evangelical “values voters” by pledging to keep up the fight against abortion and same-sex “marriage,” and to protect religious freedom.

Sens. George Allen of Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, as well as Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee participated in the Family Research Council’s “2006 Values Voter Summit,” which drew about 1,800 conservative activists to the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Northwest. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was scheduled to address the crowd last night.

Mr. Santorum, who is in a bruising re-election battle, was among several who strongly advocated marriage as being only between one man and one woman.

“I believe the family is the central unit of our society and marriage is the glue that holds it together,” he said yesterday in a recorded speech. Mr. Santorum had planned to attend the summit, but his visit was canceled because of a family obligation.

The two-term senator, who is trailing his Democratic opponent in polls, said that like others in the crowd, he has “paid a price” for taking a strong stand against abortion and same-sex “marriage” but will continue the fight. The audience applauded when he said life begins at conception.

Mr. Santorum’s comments echoed those made Friday by Mr. Huckabee, who said, “Marriage has been between a man and a woman for all time, in all civilizations.”

For his part, Mr. Allen called for protecting religious freedom, private-property rights and traditional marriage and urged immigration reform.

“We shouldn’t reward illegal behavior with amnesty,” he said Friday to loud cheers.

There did not appear to be a strong consensus among the attendees on which Republican leads the field of possible White House contenders for 2008.

“I’m impressed with all of them, because they’re speaking my language,” said Janis Christensen of North Ogden, Utah.

“I think George has got a shot at being the next president,” said Doug Hesse of Eatonton, Ga., who heard Mr. Allen speak for the first time on Friday. “He was articulate; I was impressed.”

“I like Mitt Romney,” said Judy Boteler of Roanoke, adding that it was the first time she had “zeroed in on him.”

Her husband, Bruce, said he liked all the potential Republican presidential candidates but didn’t see any of them “running above the crowd” yet.

“We don’t see any Ronald Reagans,” he said. He quickly added of the Democratic field: “I don’t see any Harry Trumans, either.”

“We were impressed with all of them,” said Margaret Blackwood of Hartselle, Ala. When asked who she would vote for, she said, “I think it would be Mitt Romney, but I could change my mind.”

Several other possible presidential contenders were invited to the conference but didn’t attend. They were Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, as well as Republican Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona.

Outside the event yesterday, a small group of protesters held signs with slogans, such as “Hate is not a family value” and “Focus on your own Darn Family.” The latter referred to Focus on the Family, the conservative group led by evangelical icon James Dobson, who was a frequent speaker at the conference.

This article is based in part on wire reports.

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