President Bush left several million evangelical voters "on the table" four years ago and again is having trouble energizing Christian conservatives, prominent leaders on the religious right say.
"It's not just economic conservatives upset by runaway federal spending that he's having trouble with. I think his biggest problem will be social conservatives who are not motivated to work for the ticket and to ensure their fellow Christians get to the polling booth," said Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute.
"If there is a rerun of 2000, when an estimated 6 million fewer evangelical Christians voted than in the pivotal year of 1994, then the Bush ticket will be in trouble, especially if there is no [Ralph] Nader alternative to draw Democratic votes away from the Democratic candidate," added Mr. Knight, whose organization is an affiliate of Concerned Women for America (CWA).
Their list of grievances is long, but right now social conservatives are mad over what many consider the president's failure to strongly condemn illegal homosexual "marriages" being performed in San Francisco under the authority of Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Top religious rights activists have been burning up the telephone lines, sharing what one privately called their "apoplexy" over Mr. Bush's failure to act decisively on the issue, although he has said he would support a constitutional amendment if necessary to ban same-sex "marriages."
"I am just furious over what's going on in California and over what the president is not doing in California," a prominent evangelical leader confided. "He says he's 'troubled' -- he should be outraged. If he's troubled, he should pick up the phone and call [California Republican Gov.] Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and tell him we want action against the rogue mayor who is breaking the law."
"They can't possibly guarantee a large turnout of evangelical Christian voters if he does not do what is morally right and take leadership on this issue as he did on the war" in Iraq, said CWA President Sandy Rios.
She echoed other conservative leaders in blaming White House political advisers and not the president himself for the failure to move forcefully against San Francisco's civil disobedience. But the veteran activist and radio host said Mr. Bush could pay a steep price in November for following his strategists' bad advice.
"The strength of this president is in his convictions, but our people do not admire his indecision and lack of leadership on an issue so basic as the sanctity of marriage," Mrs. Rios said.
Religious conservatives helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency in the 1980s and helped Republicans retake the House and Senate in 1994, but complain that they have little to show for their loyalty to the GOP.
"I'm not blaming the president, but religious conservatives have been doing politics for 25 years and, on every front, are worse off on things they care about," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values. "The gay rights movement is more powerful, the culture is more decadent, the life of not one baby has been saved, porn is in the living room, and you can't watch the Super Bowl without your hand on the off switch."
Religious right leaders say their constituents aren't likely to defect to the Democrats.
"What is at issue here is, will our folks be AWOL when it comes time for the election because they are just not energized and motivated?" said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "Social conservatives coalesce around strong leadership. That's what motivates and energizes them. And on their core issues, the leadership from the White House is not there right now."
Conservative Christian concerns with White House leadership extend beyond homosexuality, pornography and abortion to issues of art, education and law.
Sadie Fields, a Bush supporter and Christian Coalition activist, says she's heard grumbles that Mr. Bush stood aside while the man he nominated for a federal appeals court appointment, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, prosecuted that state's popular chief justice, Roy Moore. Mr. Moore was forced from office after defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of Alabama's State Judicial Building.
Mr. Knight points to Mr. Bush's having "promoted the Ted Kennedy Leave No Child Behind education bill, which expanded an Education Department that social conservatives see as a fully owned subsidiary of the National Education Association, which has grown more stridently left wing in recent years. The NEA has boldly promoted the homosexual agenda for schoolchildren."
Also, Mr. Knight said, Mr. Bush "upped the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, which has boldly promoted the homosexual agenda for schoolchildren. The White House message to social conservatives was: 'We don't share your values, folks. We would rather impress the art elite at cocktail parties.' "
Mr. Bauer, a former Reagan White House adviser who was briefly a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination four years ago, said pro-life voters were dismayed by Mr. Bush's repeated statements during the 2000 campaign that he would not make abortion a "litmus test" issue for judicial appointees. Since Mr. Bush took office, Mr. Bauer said, many of the same voters were disappointed by Mr. Bush's ineffectiveness in pushing conservative bench nominees past liberal Democrats in the Senate.
Mr. Knight said runaway federal spending under Mr. Bush worries some social conservatives who "fear their children will become slaves to the government someday. It's not just an economic issue. It's about freedom."
With more than eight months remaining until Election Day, American Family Association founder Don Wildmon said the president "has already upset the economic conservatives, and I know the problem he is having with evangelicals. ... There is a major problem there."
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