Evangelicals made the winning difference last month as Virginians elected a Republican governor for the first time in 16 years in a campaign that sparked charges of “religious bigotry.”

George Allen, son of the legendary pro football coach of the same name, was the victor November 2 after Democrats tried to link him to fellow Virginian Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Michel Farris, an evangelical lawyer and leader in the homeschool movement, lost to incumbent Donald Beyer, Jr. But in garnering 46 percent of the vote, Farris surprised analysts who had said his views were too conservative and religiously based to be taken seriously.

After the election, Republican congressional leaders sent President Clinton a letter asking him to put a stop to religiously hostile campaign efforts. “As the nation watched the Virginia elections this fall, they witnessed religious bigotry most thought had expired with the anti-Catholic bias against John F. Kennedy in 1960,” stated the letter signed by Reps. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Robert H. Michel of Illinois, and others. “As one who seems sensitive to the role of faith in the public square … we would ask you to denounce this type of religious intolerance.”

In Virginia, the strategy appeared to backfire. Six months before the election, one poll had ex-attorney general Mary Sue Terry, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, with a lead of 29 percentage points. But Terry’s support nose-dived when she began a series of television ads and speeches portraying Allen as a pawn of the extreme forces of the Religious Right. In an election in which one out of three voters were evangelicals, Allen received 58 percent of the overall vote and 76 percent ...

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