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The party faithful hear the campaign's prayers

September 03, 2004|Anne-Marie O'Connor | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — As the last strains of "Dixie" died down, conservative legislators and convention delegates grew quietly reverential, and everyone at the crowded lunch solemnly bowed their heads as a fresh-faced young priest led them in a special prayer -- to ask God to guide the presidential elections.

"Lord, we pray that your people may be awakened," said Father Frank Pavone at the event, which honored anti-abortion activists. "Awaken them, that the same hands lifted up to you in prayer are the hands that pull the lever in the voting booth.... And that they do not cease to be Christians when they enter the voting booth."

And when they get in the voting booth?

"If I could ask one thing of you this election cycle," Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback told the crowd, "it is to get George W. Bush reelected. To win this country, we've got to get more votes in the Senate and George W. Bush back in office.

"And we need your prayers. Pray, pray, pray. You move the hand of God."

Christian conservatives could also help swing the election for Bush. Republican pollsters say the president enjoys strong support among evangelical Christians, who tend to hold stronger views against abortion and gay marriage than voters who are not regular churchgoers. Getting those voters to the polls is a major element of the effort to reelect him. So it was no surprise that Christian delegates and leaders at the convention were courted by a parade of politicians at events that blended politics and religion like the Wednesday luncheon honoring anti-abortion activists.

Close to Madison Square Garden but out of the limelight of the moderate speeches on prime-time television was a parallel universe with Christian rockers, Christian leaders and Christian electoral affirmations.

"We thank you for the opportunity that this election year puts before us," Pavone, the Roman Catholic priest, prayed before the meal. "To exercise our solemn duty not only to vote, but to influence countless others to vote, and to vote correctly."

The prayer resonated with Cyndi Saunders, a "former California liberal" from Mammoth who moved to Alaska and became a Republican anti-abortion activist.

Saunders, 49, said she registered people to vote at her Christian church in Anchorage and regularly prayed that Bush would win in November. "Jesus is not here, but I picked the next closest thing," she said, "and it's the family values in the Republican platform."

Saunders, the married mother of two grown sons, said she stopped voting for Democrats when she embraced the church, following a troubled period of her life when she had "several" abortions.

"My family, we try to filter everything through the Bible," she said. "Truth is absolute, and if you don't have moral absolutes, you don't have anything at all."

She said she was worried about same-sex marriage. "If marriage can be torn apart, so can the society and the world," she said. The anti-abortion luncheon was not for the faint of heart. The conservative pundit Ann Coulter stood up in a purple miniskirt and graphically described the details of the medical procedure involved in a late-term abortion.

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who hosted the lunch as national chairwoman of the Republican National Coalition for Life, talked about meeting unborn children in the hereafter.

"When our judgment day comes, there will be a terrible moment of loneliness," Schlafly warned. "Then there will be a chorus of voices from the next world. It will be the unborn babies, saying, 'They loved us.' And God will say, 'You did not succeed all the time, but you tried.' "

But she also declared political victory. At past Republican conventions, she said, conservatives had to push and shove to get their language into the platform, but "in this convention, there was no battle at all, because they recognized that pro-life Republicans have won."

New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith urged activists and delegates to remember this on election day: "George Bush has been faithful," Smith said. "He believes in a culture of life."

"God wants us to work for what he believes in," echoed Jerry Cronin, a Republican candidate for a New York congressional seat. "The grace of the Holy Spirit can inspire us. But we have to get up and do it ourselves."

Pavone, who is the national director of Priests for Life, an anti-abortion group, declared a special nine-week novena -- from Aug. 31 until election day -- and thanked God, in his prayer, "for the privilege of being able to organize ourselves politically ... and of knowing that political loyalty does not have to mean disloyalty to you."

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