The religious right comes into the presidential election year with unusual new opportunities for national influence, yet also finds itself weakened by internal setbacks and shifting strategies. In Iowa, however, Christian conservatives still have a political stronghold that could influence national politics as the process of nominating presidential candidates kicks off this month."The conservative religious groups have control of the GOP in Iowa," Dave Yepsen of The Des Moines Register told Christianity Today. The evangelical vote is particularly important in states such as Iowa because "evangelicals really believe in voting and they do it," says Christian Smith, author of American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving.

More Talk of Faith

In the presidential race, talk of faith and family values has rarely been so unambiguous. But beyond endorsing heartfelt testimonials, Christian conservatives have not been fully successful in focusing their influence on new policy proposals or unifying around a candidate. Some political analysts say the Religious Right's leaders have frittered away their power on "second tier" presidential candidates (Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, and Alan Keyes) or put all their eggs in one basket: the campaign of GOP frontrunner George W. Bush.

Christian Coalition members, for example, have spread their support among five Republican candidates, including Bush. But while former Christian Coalition leaders have landed key jobs in the Bush campaign, religious conservatives cannot cite any issue they have added to Bush's presidential agenda.According to the Pew Research Center, about one third of Republicans nationwide identify themselves as religious conservatives. In Iowa and South Carolina, where ...

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