Three months ago, Democratic leaders, buoyed by a humming economy and a popular President, envisioned recapturing the House of Representatives with a swing of 11 seats in the November 3 midterm election.

While pre-election polls show Americans continue to approve of the way President Clinton is handling his job—especially the economy—the release last month of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress outlining 11 reasons for impeachment based on the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal has acutely deflated Democratic hopes of gaining in Congress.

Indeed, pollsters are predicting disillusioned voters will stay away in droves. But Alan Secrest, president of Cooper and Secrest, one of the nation's largest Democratic polling firms, says, "The angrier voters are, the more likely they are to turn out." He predicts those few who do end up at the polls will be voting with raw emotions.

John C. Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, estimates that less than a third of the electorate will vote, making it one of the lowest turnouts ever. Conservative Christians, who tend overwhelmingly to vote Republican, could tip the balance in tight races, resulting in a considerable gain for the GOP in Congress. While polls indicate moral issues are suddenly a priority for the electorate, Republicans run the risk of overplaying their hand and causing a voter backlash.

As the Clinton scandal has unfolded, the organizations that form the backbone of the Religious Right are in flux. The Christian Coalition has retooled since wunderkind Ralph Reed left to become a political consultant last year. Focus on the Family's James Dobson, after clashing with top Republicans earlier this year, suffered a mild stroke in June, blunting his public threat to leave the GOP fold unless Republican leaders refocused on the pro-family agenda. And Family Research Council (FRC) president Gary Bauer, mulling a year 2000 presidential bid, last month began running television commercials in Iowa calling on Clinton to resign.

GRASSROOTS STRENGTH: Despite changing faces and evolving roles at the top of several organizations, some believe the best days of the Religious Right are ahead.

Reed, now an Atlanta-based election consultant, told CHRISTIANITY TODAY, "The strength of the religious conservative movement has never been its leadership, but its grassroots." Reed, 36, says, "The names and the faces of leaders may change, but what never changes is the fact that there are 20 to 30 million committed, devout, conservative people of faith who are deeply concerned about the moral direction of our country."

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But has the GOP earned the everlasting loyalty of religious conservatives? Christian conservatives in Congress and state legislatures have few achievements to show to their supporters. The U.S. Senate, state and federal courts, and the White House have in different ways blocked conservative initiatives on taxes, abortion, and religious persecution.

Nevertheless, Randy Tate, the Christian Coalition executive director, suspects that organizational skills will tip the scales in close races. "It isn't going to be tv and radio ads and attack pieces coming through the mail," he says. "It's going to be which organizations are motivated and can turn out their supporters."

The struggle between fiscal and social conservatives rages on within the Republican party. Some GOP operatives try to avoid discussing social issues; yet they realize turnout among grassroots Christian conservatives will be higher than in the nation as a whole. Thus, after 18 months of inactivity, congressional Republicans finally began to act on moral issues over the summer. But the GOP would rather stick to economic issues. A National Republican Congressional Committee "critical issues survey" mailed in July contained questions on government spending, tax hikes, the irs, government waste, crime, and a balanced budget amendment, but nothing on abortion, homosexuality, school prayer, or the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Representative J. C. Watts (R-Okla.), the only black Republican in Congress, says such a strategy may backfire. "If you wait until six months before an election to bring up family issues, what's the Christian community going to think?"

After a February blast from Dobson, who vowed to abandon the GOP unless it acted on pro-family initiatives, fresh attention has been focused on the moral agenda, including removal of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a ban on fetal-tissue research, an end to federally funded condom distribution, and elimination of the NEA.

Dobson, 62, says he is most frustrated with Republicans who pay lip service to family values at election time but have no commitment to winning in the legislative arena.

Bauer has joined Dobson in attempting to hold the GOP's feet to the fire, especially focusing on China policy and religious persecution (CT, June 16, 1997, p. 54). With faxes going daily to 400,000 constituents, the FRC—originally an arm of Focus on the Family—has become a potent force in calling attention to policy issues. Bauer, too, has threatened to bolt the gop and take his followers with him.

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LEGISLATIVE PROGRESS? Despite Dobson and Bauer's misgivings, Tate is pleased with the gop-controlled Congress.

"This has been a banner year for the Christian Coalition," Tate says. "Our agenda is getting full attention; our issues are on the front burner on Capitol Hill." Even though little Christian Coalition- supported legislation has been enacted, Tate sees value in getting legislators on the record for voters.

Several abortion-related issues have been addressed, including restrictions on partial-birth abortion, a parental consent bill, and limiting funds for abortions overseas. A $500 tax cut for families has been implemented. Congress also has discussed educational savings accounts, religious freedom, school prayer, and welfare reform.

Tate, now 32, came to Washington as part of the 1994 GOP revolution. But he lost a 1996 election in Washington State and last year replaced Reed at the Christian Coalition (CT, July 14, 1997, p. 60). In spite of a financially rocky start under his watch that included dwindling contributions, layoffs, and downsizing of operations (CT, March 2, 1998, p. 74), the Christian Coalition has rebounded, and Tate finds himself more influential outside of Congress than he was inside.

The Christian Coalition will promote its largest get-out-the-vote program ever, encompassing postcard reminders and an automated phone message from Tate to vote. On Election Day, for the first time, Christian Coalition members will drive voters to the polls. A record number of voting guides—45 million—will be distributed just before the election, primarily at churches. Membership is at 2.1 million, although Christian Coalition spokesperson Molly Clatworthy says there is no formal "membership" and names are not removed. She says the number reflects those who have "volunteered their time and financial support over time."

The lineup of two dozen speakers at the September 18-19 Christian Coalition Road to Victory conference to energize 3,000 faithful members looked like a Religious Right roll call, including National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston, Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell, Empower America codirector William Bennett, Eagle Forum president Phyllis Schlafly, radio show host Oliver North, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, House Majority Whip Tom Delay, Sen. John Ashcroft, and FRC's Bauer. Clatworthy says Texas Democrat Rep. Martin Frost and Colorado Gov. Ray Romer, Democratic National Committee chair, had been invited but declined to speak.

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CRITICAL VOICES: Moderate evangelicals point out that the Christian Coalition does not represent all people of faith, yet alternative groups such as the Interfaith Alliance and Call to Renewal have not come close in mustering such grassroots strength.

Jim Wallis, convener of the Call to Renewal (CT, Oct. 28, 1996, p. 86), says Tate's group continues to misinterpret a biblical mandate. "The most important public policy question that emerges from the Bible is how the poor, the vulnerable, are being treated," says Wallis, executive director of Sojourners. "Any organization that is calling itself Christian must have poor people and racial reconciliation on the agenda."

C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, says, "Many of the Republicans in Congress are growing weary of trying to satisfy the Religious Right, saying, 'Whatever we do, there's always more they want.'" Gaddy, 56, is one of several moderate and liberal religious leaders who has signed "an appeal for healing" urging Americans to forgive Clinton and let him lead.

The Interfaith Alliance, which published voter guides in 1996 but will not this year, criticizes the Christian Coalition for distributing guides at churches. The Interfaith Alliance is urging candidates to sign a "code of civility" pledging they will not use religion as a political tool.

An IRS investigation dating to 1990 on whether the Christian Coalition's voter guides violate a ban on partisan politicking by tax-exempt groups continues. The Federal Election Commission's (FEC) suit against the Christian Coalition alleges the group engaged in partisan politicking for Republicans (CT, Sept. 16, 1996, p. 115). On September 8, the Christian Coalition asked a federal judge to dismiss the fec suit. Six days later, the FEC filed a motion reiterating its request to fine the Christian Coalition and halt further political fundraising efforts.

THE PRICE OF PURITY: Politically active pro-family groups face a perennial dilemma: If they wish to rule, they have to compromise in order to gain a majority. But the act of compromise smacks of betrayal to hardliners. Pragmatists say concessions must be made to ensure input into the political process, while purists say morality and political compromise are often at odds.

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Pro-family leaders disagree on whether the Republican party should be more inclusive, with some articulating the so-called big tent philosophy. "The Republican party remains the most pro-family party in modern political history," Reed says. "To walk away from that tremendous achievement would do tremendous and irreparable damage to the pro-family movement."

Yet Dobson believes big-tent backers are in control. "They believe they can avoid such controversial issues as abortion, homosexual activism, safe-sex ideology, school choice," Dobson wrote in an April letter to supporters. "They call it a 'policy of inclusion,' by which they mean that moderates and liberals will be favored and conservatives will be taken for granted."

As analyst Green sees it, "If Ralph Reed wanted a place at the table, you could say James Dobson is very concerned about what's being served."

In the 1996 presidential election, Dobson and Bauer threatened to sit out the campaign if the GOP's Bob Dole allowed an abortion-tolerance plank in the platform or failed to pick a pro-life running mate. While Dole appeased Christian conservatives on those two counts, his tepid response to other concerns caused many to stay away from the polls (CT, Oct. 7, 1996, p. 76).

Reed believes Christians who remain at home on November 3 will only help elect candidates with ungodly viewpoints. "While the marriage between the pro-family movement and the Republican party is imperfect, no marriage is perfect, certainly not in politics," Reed says.

Representative Watts, while no stranger to disagreements with GOP leadership, appreciates the constraints they are under. "If you try to measure your success in politics at the end of the day, you're always going to be frustrated," says Watts, who is also a Baptist pastor.

Tate has followed Reed's example as a firm believer in working within the existing system rather than threatening to reinvent it. "It's a recipe for disaster if Christians stay home, because then they have no voice and they become irrelevant," Tate says. "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

The Christian Coalition voter guides divulge which candidates do not toe the line on social issues. Nevertheless, Tate says it is important to forge alliances. Tate says, "We can find common ground with economic conservatives because we're interested in lower taxes and fewer regulations."

However, Rich Tafel, 36-year-old executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization of homosexual Republicans, may never find a place at the table. Organizers at the Texas state gop convention in June denied the group a booth, even though they had 50 elected delegates participating. Irate Christian protesters shouted at members of the group.

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"They purvey hatred in the name of a God and a gospel that is all about love and compassion and forgiveness and generosity, and a God whose particular mission is to reach out to the outcasts," says Tafel, an ordained American Baptist pastor. The success of the Republican party depends on becoming inclusive, rather than using a strict interpretation of Scripture as a litmus test, Tafel believes. rnc cochair Pat Harrison agrees that Log Cabin Republicans must be welcomed. "You can't be a majority party without a lot of different people," she says.

MORAL ARGUMENTS: Both sides in the homosexual-rights debate are using moral arguments to try to shift public opinion to their side. Homosexual-rights advocates demand fairness and equality, while opponents argue that homosexual behavior is destructive to individuals and families.

Recent efforts to adopt clauses prohibiting sexual orientation in discrimination in housing and employment at the state and local level have been largely successful. On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Lott in June likened homosexuality to kleptomania and alcoholism. In addition, congressional Republicans for months have blocked the nomination of homosexual Democrat James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.

Perhaps no issue has so stirred the fresh wrath of Christian conservatives as Clinton's executive order in May adding "sexual orientation" as a protected class of federal workers against discrimination. Conservative Christians say the executive order will eventually lead to establishing affirmative action and quotas for homosexual workers. Even so, a House proposal in August to repeal the executive order lost 252 to 176, as 63 Republicans chose not to appear in favor of employment discrimination.

Dobson decried the absence of GOP critics when Clinton signed the order. "The wording guarantees that those who claim to be homosexuals will henceforth be given preferential treatment in hiring, firing, and job-related activities," Dobson wrote in his July newsletter.

Bauer warns of further implications. "If homosexuals become a protected class, then same-sex marriage, homosexual adoption, and gay curriculum in the schools can't be far behind," he told supporters in August.

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Concerned Women for America chair Beverly LaHaye says "sexual orientation" is not defined in the order. "Will this allow all perversions of sexual behavior to qualify?" LaHaye asks.

Conservatives say the GOP is playing defense against the homosexual-rights agenda at the national level, pressing for same-sex marriage, adoption rights, and employment protections.

IDENTITY POLITICS: Though they are not courting homosexual voters, some GOP candidates are starting to pitch their pro-family message to African Americans and Latinos for the first time.

Republicans have long ignored black voters, who cast nine out of ten ballots for Democrats in some states. But Florida gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush found out four years ago that ignoring 20 percent of the state's electorate can result in defeat. This year, in his second campaign, he has been venturing into poor inner-city black neighborhoods with great frequency, and he is expected to win.

Moreover, RNC "freedom riders" around the country have been visiting urban black churches, where they have found advocates in the school choice debate after Clinton vetoed education savings accounts.

"We make a mistake if we don't make parental choice an issue, especially in large urban areas," Watts says. "It's going to be the civil-rights issue of the twenty-first century."

Watts says he has repeatedly told Republican leadership that not all African Americans agree with the old guard leadership typified by Jesse Jackson. Republicans can reach blacks, Watts says, because most have the same priorities as whites: lower taxes, safer streets, well-paying jobs, and better schools. "You can't just do outreach three or four months before an election; you have to have a long-term plan," Watts says. "In politics, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Hispanics are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, and African Americans are developing a middle class, factors that contribute to their interest in the Republican party. But so does a belief in traditional values, according to RNC cochair Harrison. "Hispanics and African Americans are leaving the Democratic party because they believe in faith and family," says Harrison, 56. "If you're not communicating to your customers, they go someplace else."

Watts, 41, is cosponsoring the "American Community Renewal Act of 1998" to spur economic development in urban areas. The measure would require state and local government groups to relax zoning, housing, tax, and business regulations in providing incentives for the working poor.

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In the same way that Republicans will no longer write off blacks, pollster Secrest says Democrats will not concede the evangelical vote—an estimated one-third of the electorate—to Republicans. "Evangelicals are important because they are so numerous," Secrest says. "Democratic candidates often alienate evangelicals by inadvertently stiff-arming them by labeling them as extremist. Close to half of evangelicals are Democrats or independents." Secrest is advising Democrats to advertise on Christian radio. Bob Doyle, a Democratic consultant with Sutter's Mill Fund Raising and Strategy, has three clients advertising on Christian radio emphasizing their pro-life views. But they also stress personal accountability, trust, and character. "Democrats should not be ceding these issues to Republicans," he says. Doyle advises his clients to visit churches in their districts as part of the strategy to reach people of faith.

ON THE FRINGE: As Democrats and Republicans both tussle over middle-of-the-road voters, several fringe candidates are running this fall, using iconoclastic rhetoric that may appeal to Americans deeply alienated from electoral politics.

Political novice Geoffrey Fieger, a lawyer who has successfully defended assisted-suicide practitioner Jack Kevorkian against three murder charges, is the Democratic nominee for governor in Michigan. Fieger is known for his insolence, calling Republican Gov. John Engler "the product of miscegenation between barnyard animals and human beings" and Jesus "just some goofball that got nailed to the cross."

Margarethe Cammermeyer, whose successful efforts to be reinstated in the military has been saluted by Hollywood in the tv movie Serving in Silence, is one of four Democratic lesbians seeking to become the first openly homosexual nonincumbent elected to Congress. Cammermeyer, a 56-year-old decorated Vietnam War veteran, is running in Washington's Second District.

Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry is running for a U.S. congressional seat from New York as a political outsider who has toned down the rhetoric. His speeches and television commercials focus not on the "baby killers" and "sodomites" that Terry passionately crusaded against only four years ago, but on making social security voluntary and abolishing the irs.

"Everyone already knows my pro-life credentials," says Terry, 39. "The challenge is to show I'm not a one-issue candidate." In speeches to churches in 1994, Terry accused Christian Coalition leader Reed of selling out to the big tent theory of GOP leaders (CT, Sept. 12, 1994, p. 61). Now he welcomes Christian Coalition members into his fold.

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Terry, who has been arrested three dozen times, urged supporters to shove an aborted fetus in the face of Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign. Dobson endorsed Terry, saying "he's been a great friend of the family" and "I wish we had a dozen more like him in Congress." To protect Focus on the Family's nonprofit tax status, Dobson makes his political pronouncements as a "private citizen."

Terry has raised $800,000, much of it from pro-lifers, and he continues to host a Christian radio talk show. Last month, Terry finished second in the September gop primary with 35 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, he will be on the November ballot as the Right to Life party candidate.

Meanwhile, 27 conservative politicians have hired Reed as a consultant. Reed may no longer be as pivotal as when he led the Christian Coalition, but as head of Century Strategies he could become as influential in a party that now has a majority in both houses of Congress and control of almost three-fourths of the governorships. In this year's primaries, 13 out of 15 of his clients won, and a half-dozen potential presidential contenders have inquired about his services.

"When I founded Century Strategies a year ago, my goal was to elect 100 pro-family, pro-faith, pro-free enterprise candidates at every level of government, but especially statewide and Congress," Reed told CT. "If we can do that over the next ten years, the transformation for the nation will be as dramatic as it was when African Americans and women candidates had their successes."

With reporting by Christine J. Gardner.

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