- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Angry over health care reform and the abortion fight it reinvigorated, worried about the expansion of gay rights and frustrated by President Obama’s criticisms of Israel, religious conservatives are eager to play a key role in the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections.

But many are also not sold on the Republican Party, and analysts are wondering whether some of them will sit out November’s elections - something religious conservatives have done in the past when neither party appealed to their interests.

“There certainly seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that the Christian right is more energized this year,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council in Washington. “But I don’t think that’s necessarily a windfall for the Republicans.”

Mr. Perkins said conservative Christians - as well as Orthodox Jews and abortion opponents - are unhappy with Mr. Obama and looking for change; yet sizing up candidates who can deliver is another matter.

“The Republicans could be that change,” Mr. Perkins said. “But in a lot of ways, they are not there yet.”

Strategists said religious conservatives stayed away from the polls on Election Day in 1996, when Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole failed to inspire them.

Karl Rove, who was a political adviser to President George W. Bush, said he thinks millions of conservatives who otherwise would have backed Mr. Bush stayed home in 2000 after news broke just before the election that Mr. Bush had been arrested in the 1970s for drunken driving.

Gary L. Bauer, president of the pro-life group American Values, predicts a simmering intensity among values voters. He said “hyphenated conservatives” who accepted Mr. Obama in the last election cycle are dumbfounded by the president’s hard tack left and repulsed by runaway spending.

“It’s almost like we’re witnessing a complete mirror image of 2008, when all the passion was among young voters, minorities and first-time voters,” said Mr. Bauer. “Now that energy is with conservatives and older voters. … There’s tremendous intensity out there.”

Mr. Bauer, a former presidential candidate who served in the Reagan administration, said values voters consider Mr. Obama an apologist and not a defender of the United States, and dislike “his questioning whether we’re even a Judeo-Christian nation.”

But the most galvanizing issue working against any Democrat or Republican who voted for health care reform is abortion, Mr. Bauer said.

During the president’s first week in office, in January 2009, he reversed a Bush administration ban on aid to international family planning groups that promote abortion.

“That same week he issued the order to close Guantanamo [Bay prison]. We learned then that he cared more about the rights of jihadists than he did about the rights of unborn babies,” Mr. Bauer said.

Abortion is also at the forefront of concerns for the Colorado-based Focus on the Family.

Tom Minnery, senior vice president for Focus’ Citizen Link, said his group hasn’t endorsed candidates for the fall but plans to be involved.

“We’re very, very concerned about the largest expansion in abortion since Roe v. Wade,” Mr. Minnery said. “And we are going to let our members know who voted for what.”

That focus on abortion isn’t lost on Rep. Mark S. Critz, the Pennsylvania Democrat who won a special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. John P. Murtha. Mr. Critz, a longtime aide to Mr. Murtha, ran as the pro-life, anti-Washington candidate.

It’s a game plan that dozens of Democratic and Republican Party candidates across the country are hoping will swing the religious conservatives to their side this fall.

With both parties stumbling, many values voters are supporting “outsider” candidates, such as “tea party” favorite Rand Paul, who won the May 18 GOP primary in Kentucky to run for the U.S. Senate this fall.

Mr. Paul won the primary over a candidate who had been backed by the Republican Party establishment in Kentucky and Washington - and he did it with the help of outsiders such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and conservative religious broadcaster James Dobson.

Mr. Dobson initially endorsed Mr. Paul’s opponent, but switched his backing in the days before the primary, saying that “senior members of the GOP” had misled him on Mr. Paul’s stand on abortion. Mr. Dobson hasn’t disclosed who exactly misinformed him and what he was told, but his aren’t the only criticisms of the GOP leadership in Washington.

A month earlier, Mr. Perkins urged Family Research Council followers in a newsletter not to donate to the Republican National Committee after a scandal involving fundraising in a sex club.

“This latest incident is another indication to me the RNC is completely tone-deaf to the values and concerns of a large number of people they are seeking financial support from,” Mr. Perkins wrote.

Other misdeeds of Republicans such as the resignation of Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana - himself an evangelical Christian - over an interoffice affair have religious conservatives in play for the fall midterms, Mr. Perkins and other political observers say.

“People in this country are angry to the point that they are motivated to make a change,” said the Rev. Luke J. Robinson, one of several black religious leaders who were part of a group of clergy on Capitol Hill last week to criticize the proposed repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Mr. Robinson said he wouldn’t back specific candidates from the pulpit but that he would preach in his church - Quinn Chapel in Frederick, Md. - about whether the country was heading in the right direction on abortion, on protecting marriage and on deficit spending.

Mr. Robinson said he has a sense that his congregation is energized.

“There’s a lot of outrage at this administration,” he said.

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