Tuesday, October 19, 2004

President Bush’s re-election campaign is getting a boost from powerful Christian groups, which are enlisting entertainers such as actor Jim Caviezel of “The Passion of the Christ” to cajole millions of evangelicals into voting.

One of the newest groups is Redeem the Vote, the religious community’s answer to MTV’s secular Rock the Vote. The group is touring battleground states with Christian rock groups and voter-registration drives that organizers say are putting the fear of God into Sen. John Kerry’s supporters.

“This is really scaring Democrats,” said Redeem the Vote founder Randy Brinson. “This is major, major news that the major media have ignored because we’re not liberal.”

Mr. Brinson persuaded Mr. Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Jesus in Mel Gibson’s hit film, to appear in a Webcast imploring Christians to vote. Although Mr. Caviezel never explicitly endorses the president, his message is designed to remind Christians that Mr. Bush shares their opposition to abortion, judicial activism and homosexual “marriage.”

“In this election year, Americans are faced with some of the most important issues in the history of our country,” he said. “In order to preserve the God-given freedoms we each hold dear, it’s important that we let our voices be heard.”

The message is hammered home in millions of e-mails that Redeem the Vote is sending to evangelical Christians, whose names were obtained from the marketing firms that made “The Passion of the Christ” a blockbuster.

A more-established Christian group, Focus on the Family, is making a similar appeal for evangelical votes through its popular radio show, hosted by James Dobson.

“In the year 2000, 4 million evangelicals did not go to the polls,” Mr. Dobson said in a recent speech that will be broadcast next week. “Twenty-five million Christians of various stripes — Catholics, mainline, other perspectives — did not register.

“That is an outrage,” he added. “And it must not happen again.”

The grass-roots efforts by these and other Christian groups are being monitored closely by the Bush campaign, which is taking a more active role in turning out evangelicals than in the 2000 election.

White House political strategist Karl Rove long has bemoaned the fact that Mr. Bush likely would have won the popular vote if more Christians had shown up at the polls four years ago.

“I see a lot of parallels between the evangelical vote and the African-American vote,” Mr. Brinson said. “For years, the Republican Party wrote off African-Americans, saying they were unable to make inroads, while the Democratic Party took them for granted.

“I see a lot of that with the evangelicals,” he added. “The Republicans have taken them for granted, and the Democrats write them off, saying they don’t have any way to reach these people.”

Christian groups are hoping to change that dynamic two weeks from today. To that end, they implicitly are reminding evangelicals that Mr. Bush shares their values.

“We have sat here, many of us for 35 years, while the family has been battered and bruised and broken,” Mr. Dobson said. “Many of us have just let it happen.

“But I’m telling you, now’s the time to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

The remarks, which were delivered to a cheering crowd in Colorado, will be broadcast next Monday and Tuesday to 1.5 million listeners of the “Focus on the Family” radio show.

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