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Republicans losing support of evangelicals



Published: Mon, October 30, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Conservative Christians haven't seen success in their political agenda.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Of the many disturbing trends for Republicans this campaign season, one of the most troubling is the drop in support among white evangelicals.

The number of conservative Christians with a favorable view of the party has plummeted from 74 percent to 54 percent between 2004 and this year, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & amp; the Press. Evangelicals comprise more than one-third of GOP voters.

But analysts say it's far too soon to write off the powerful Republican-evangelical alliance that helped the party dominate in the 2004 election.

Conservative Christians have been here before -- disappointed that Republicans they helped elect failed to enact the evangelical agenda -- yet they have consistently returned to the GOP. Even as they question the current Republican leadership, evangelicals are far more supportive than other Americans of President Bush and the party, the Pew Center found.

"There's a lot of discontentment," said Marvin Olasky, editor of the Christian newsweekly World and a framer of the "compassionate conservative" language used by Bush. "But unfortunately for most conservative evangelicals, there's no alternative."

That doesn't mean the GOP can rest easy. Damage over the past two years could cost Republicans on Nov. 7 if disenchanted evangelical voters stay home. And tensions with a core constituency would muddy the run-up to the 2008 presidential race.

What's obvious

Evangelical frustration is apparent in their qualified endorsements of GOP candidates.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family said at a September "Stand for the Family" rally in the battleground state of Pennsylvania that Republicans have made no progress on issues important to Christians who helped put the GOP in control.

Still, he told attendees to vote.

"Whether Republicans deserve the power they were given," Dobson said, "the alternatives are downright frightening."

The complaints are familiar. Through every Republican victory since the Moral Majority was formed in 1979, abortion remained legal, gay couples won greater acceptance and prayer was still barred from public schools.

In 1999, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, both veterans of the Moral Majority, examined these failures in their book "Blinded by Might," and concluded that politics was too corrupt to be used to spread Christian morality in America.

A few other evangelicals suggested conservative Christians withdraw from politics and focus instead on faith.

The retreat never happened. Between 1999 and 2004, the share of white evangelicals identifying themselves as Republican grew from 39 percent to 49 percent, the Pew Center found.

It's unclear whether this campaign season will be different.

Like many other Americans, evangelicals are upset by U.S. strategy in Iraq, corruption in the Republican-led Congress, and the case of former GOP Rep. Mark Foley, who sent sexually explicit e-mails to pages.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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