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GOP Hopefuls Court Evangelicals        01/25 12:00

   ATLANTA (AP) -- Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney have gotten much of the attention 
in these early days of the Republican race for president, but as they court the 
party's elite donors in private phone calls and meetings, a group of likely 
candidates to their right are just as eagerly chasing support among Christian 
evangelicals and social conservatives.

   Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal led a prayer rally that filled the basketball 
arena at Louisiana State University on Saturday. Called "The Response," 
organizers billed the event as a national call to pray "for a nation that has 
not honored God in our success or humbly called on him in our struggles."

   Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson spoke and attended services this weekend 
at Houston's Second Baptist Church as part of the mammoth congregation's "If My 
People" conference, pitched as an effort to "restore the soul of America."

   Carson also appeared Saturday, along with several other possible candidates 
that included Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, before a 
crowd of several hundred devoted social conservatives in Iowa, where GOP Rep. 
Steve King hosted his Freedom Summit. Romney and Bush did not attend.

   "This is important, and it tells everybody who either is a believer or a 
nonbeliever what a candidate's world view is," said the Rev. Gary Moore, senior 
associate pastor for the Houston church that invited Carson. "Out of their 
world view comes everything else on every kind of issue."

   Veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres, whose clients include Florida Sen. 
Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 candidate, said social conservatives nationally 
amount to just "20 to 25 percent" of Republican primary voters. But they make 
up a much larger share of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses and are 
significant in South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary a few weeks later. 
To win the GOP nomination, a candidate must be "at least acceptable" to primary 
voters who identify first as social and religious conservatives.

   The party also includes self-identified "chamber of commerce" Republicans, 
national security-foreign affairs hawks, tea party fiscal conservatives and 
libertarians. "There is obviously overlap," Ayres said. "But it's hard to 
quantify just where the overlap is, so no candidate can afford to be identified 
exclusively with one faction."

   Jindal, who was raised Hindu but converted to Catholicism in college, has 
tried recently to marry religious conservatism with tough foreign policy. 
During a recent trip to Europe, Jindal drew international attention for echoing 
a Fox News commentator who asserted that radical Muslims have taken over some 
neighborhoods in Europe, a notion for which British Prime Minister David 
Cameron called the commentator "complete idiot." Fox later apologized, but 
Jindal stood by his claim, telling CNN that "radical Islam is a threat to our 
way of life."

   At his event in Baton Rouge on Saturday, which Jindal has insisted was not a 
political event, the governor said, "We can't just elect a candidate to fix our 
country. ... We need a spiritual revival to fix our country."

   At a South Carolina tea party convention earlier this month, as Cruz 
hammered President Barack Obama's fiscal and foreign policies, he worked in 
details of his relationship with his minister in Houston and prayer sessions 
he's held with pastors in the city. And his father, the Rev. Rafael Cruz, an 
evangelical pastor, spent the entire weekend huddling with activists on his 
son's behalf.

   Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Jindal, Cruz and other conservatives 
also tout their support for Israel, aligning themselves with evangelicals who 
cite the Judeo-Christian scriptural account of an ancient covenant establishing 
Israelites as God's "chosen people."

   This week, Huckabee will visit North Carolina's First Baptist Church of 
Charlotte. The ticketed event, which promises to draw from neighboring South 
Carolina, is built around Huckabee's new book, but his writings in "God, Guns, 
Grits and Gravy" serve as primer for the ordained Baptist minister's politics 
and potential campaign.

   The Rev. Mark Harris, senior pastor of the Charlotte congregation that 
Huckabee will visit, said the notion of a Republican Party divided into the 
different constituencies is overblown. Harris cited his failed bid for Senate 
last year and noted how he went on to endorse and campaign for now-Sen. Thom 
Tillis, generally viewed in that primary as the business establishment 
candidate.

   But the balance still isn't easy, as several would-be presidents in Iowa 
tacitly acknowledged.

   New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic from a Democratic-leaning state, 
isn't a favorite among most Protestant evangelicals and made sure Saturday to 
emphasize his personal opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. 
But, he cautioned, "If you want a candidate who agrees with you 100 percent of 
the time, I'll give you a suggestion: Go home and look in the mirror. You are 
the only person you agree with 100 percent of the time," he said.

   At the same event, Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses, warned, "We 
don't need to spend the next two years beating each other up in the 
conservative tent. We need to tell America what's right with this country."

   Just last week in Washington, Republican House leaders abandoned a proposal 
to restrict abortion after 20 weeks, popular among social conservatives for 
whom issues related to abortion are paramount, amid concerns that it could hurt 
the party with younger and female voters.

   Harris, even as he called for party unity, said such moves risk alienating 
evangelicals, whom he argued helped cost the GOP the past two presidential 
elections by not voting in the general election.

   "When you don't speak to our issues, you make a mistake," he said.


(KA)


 
 
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