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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Christian Conservatives Leave Convention in Great Spirits

September 04, 2004|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — They may have been pushed mostly out of the prime-time spotlight, but Christian conservatives left the Republican National Convention on Friday inspired by one of the most socially conservative party platforms in years and determined to reelect a president they viewed as an ideological soul mate.

In a variety of settings mostly removed from the main stage in New York this week, social conservatives trumpeted their support for President Bush and welcomed a return of the "culture wars" they first declared more than a decade ago.

Now, in the 60 days remaining before the election, they plan to register thousands of voters, whose names have been gleaned from church directories, and distribute an estimated 30 million voter guides in churches, malls and other locations. One activist recruited conservatives to infiltrate Democratic-leaning churches and report on liberal ministers who make overt political appeals on behalf of the Democratic candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

"President Bush supports God, and God supports President Bush, absolutely," said Judith H. Manning, an alternate delegate from Marietta, Ga., explaining the fervor for Bush. Some conservative activists had complained before the convention that their voices were being muffled. Bush gave only brief nods to their top issues in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday when he called for "a place for the unborn child" in society, expressed opposition to "activist judges" who had supported same-sex marriage and said that religious charities should be able to receive government funds to provide social services.

Still, conservatives left the convention energized. They had victories in platform votes, maintaining the Republican stance against abortion rights, backing Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and supporting the limits he placed on research using stem cells from human embryos.

Though those positions received considerable publicity, the conservatives' domination of the platform debate went even further. They won a plank stating that Congress and the president might limit the jurisdiction of federal courts, a response to rulings that forced the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from an Alabama courthouse and that would have stripped the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance had the U.S. Supreme Court not intervened. The platform also declares that only heterosexual couples should receive legal recognition and related benefits.

Moderates were so outnumbered here that they could not even get the platform committee to hear a motion in favor of a "unity" plank, which would have recognized other points of view on such hot-button issues as same-sex marriage and abortion.

"They just hung around, whining in the halls. They didn't have the votes," Phyllis Schlafly, a long-time conservative activist, said of the moderates.

The conservative platform positions were not mentioned often from the convention podium during prime time, but conservatives found other venues for airing their stands on social issues.

At a variety of rallies, breakfasts and luncheons, calls for a ban on same-sex marriage routinely drew the loudest cheers from Christian activists.

"We absolutely have to win this battle," Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said at a "family, faith and freedom rally" Tuesday at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. "If you lose marriage, if you lose the basic unit on which you build families, I fear for the republic. I really do."

Five hundred conservative Christians roared their approval. All were invited guests at the event, which a flier said was paid for "by the Committee on Arrangements for the Republican National Committee." Media representatives were told the event was closed.

Brownback, a possible presidential candidate in 2008, applauded passage of the bill that banned the procedure opponents call "partial-birth abortion." He called on Congress to move a bill to require that mothers be informed of the pain he said their unborn children suffered in some abortions.

"We are going to require that if a child is to be aborted at 20 weeks of age or more, that the mother has to be notified about the pain the child experiences," Brownback said, and "the mother has to be told ... that the child can be offered anesthesia."

The second-term senator said it was critical that Bush be the one to appoint federal judges for the next four years to reinforce conservatives in the "culture wars." That phrase was popularized in 1992 by presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, although many Republicans continue to blame Buchanan and the hard-line conservative message at that year's convention for contributing to the defeat of Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, who was seeking a second term in the White House.

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