Republican strategists proudly announced in 2004 that America had morphed into a conservative nation. What a difference two halting years in Iraq and one massive hurricane have made in severely undermining Republican gains.
Due to perceived missteps at home and abroad, Republicans face the very real prospect of losing both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which they raucously claimed in 1994.
Nevertheless, white evangelicals' support for Republican candidates remains high. But maybe not high enough to staunch Republican losses. October polling from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicates 60 percent of these evangelicals plan to vote for Republican candidates. Just one month earlier, 64 percent said they would back Republicans. Contributing to the decline is the lack of a galvanizing candidate and social issue, such as President Bush and gay marriage in 2004.
"The sense of urgency for a lot of people who care about traditional marriage probably isn't there as much as it was two years ago," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told CT. "Recent court decisions have been more favorable toward traditional marriage."
Christianity Today has identified four key races to follow on Election Night. These contests feature debates about issues of special concern to evangelicals.
"These are races where evangelicals really could make the difference, no matter how they vote," said John Green, senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) vs. Sen. Rick Santorum (R)
If Democrats take the Senate, look no further than Pennsylvania. This is the race Democrats have circled since the bitter 2004 campaign. Sen. Rick Santorum is an inviting target. The Senate's third-ranking Republican, Santorum has passionately defended the war in Iraq and led President Bush's bid to reform Social Security. Undaunted by his state's Democratic leanings, Santorum touted his conservative Catholic social views in It Takes a Family, which he published this year. His activism earlier earned him a spot as one of two Catholics on Time's 2005 list of the 25 most influential American evangelicals.
Concerned about the "God gap" evident after the 2004 election, Democrats decided to make Pennsylvania a test casewhat happens if a pro-life Catholic runs against a pro-life Catholic? The challenger is State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., son of a popular former governor. Democratic leaders famously denied Bob Casey Sr. a platform slot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because of his pro-life views. The father's liability has become the son's selling point.
"If this country ever witnessed a time period where the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and that decision came back to the states, I would hope that Pennsylvania would enact legislation protecting the unborn," Casey Jr. told the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
With the winds of Democratic momentum and family history at his back, Casey exploded with a double-digit lead in the polls. Both candidates raised gobs of money from around the country. The race tightened at summer's end, though, and Santorum won't go down without a fight.
"I don't understand how somebody who says he's pro-life would filibuster judges when the principal reason [for the filibuster] is because of the pro-life issue," Santorum told ct about Casey, whose press office did not respond to interview requests. National issues like the war in Iraq will also play a decisive role. They've already hampered President Bush's ability to campaign for his party in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, as he did so effectively in 2002.
Tomorrow: Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Dick DeVos campaign in Michigan.
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See also today's interview with Santorum.
Sen. Rick Santorum and State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr's campaign websites have more information on the candidates.
The New York Times commented on the role of the abortion debate in this race, in an article titled "Senate Campaign Tests Democrats' Abortion Tack."
CBS reports on the second debate between the two candidates.
RealClearPolitics.com has data on current poll standings.
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