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U.S. Evangelicals, No Sure Presidential Pick

( [email protected] ) Aug 03, 2007 12:12 PM EDT
Washington, D.C - A week ahead of the Republican straw poll, evangelicals in Iowa find themselves with no sure presidential pick.
Republican presidential hopefuls, from left, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.; former secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson; Sen. Sam Brownback R-Kan.; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.; former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore; and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; appear on stage before the Republican presidential primary debate hosted by Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, June 5, 2007. (Photo: AP Images / Jim Cole, File)

Washington, D.C - A week ahead of the Republican straw poll, evangelicals in Iowa find themselves with no sure presidential pick.

Some believe the GOP presidential candidates have strayed from the moral issues that are essential to the Republican party platform, including abortion and same-sex “marriage.”

"The whole faith and values conversation is falling by the wayside," said the Rev. Mike Rose, senior pastor of First Federated Church in Des Moines, according to The Des Moines Register. "The country as a whole feels there are issues more pressing at this time. The war with Iraq is on everybody's mind. Right to life and gay marriage, which are important to Christian conservatives, aren't as big with the general public."

According to a poll by Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of all registered voters marked abortion as very important in their vote for president. Abortion was also a low priority among Republican-leaning voters (43 percent).

The top-tier issues American voters ranked are the economy and the war in Iraq.

Nevertheless, Americans are less likely to support a candidate who is pro-abortion rights (39 percent) or pro-gay rights (40 percent), a Time magazine poll found.

Congregants at Central Assembly of God Church in Des Moines are turned off by candidates who are ignoring abortion and same-sex “marriage” issues and are concerned that Republicans, who all describe themselves as Christian, will be distracted by Iraq and national-security issues.

"Morality is the No. 1 issue with me," said Ken Rogers, 62, of Central Assembly of God Church, according to the Register.

As more conservative Christians raise questions, GOP candidates will be forced to go into detail about how they feel about moral issues, Mary Tiffany, communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, told the local newspaper.

"[T]hese issues are the heart and soul of the Republican Party platform, so we can't stray away," she said.

So far, evangelicals in Iowa are not rallying around top-tier GOP presidential hopefuls, citing "bad decisions" made by several candidates, including Rudolph Giuliani's three marriages.

While the evangelicals believe in God's ability to transform a person's life, the Rev. Jeff Bradley, pastor of Central Assembly of God Church, said, "we can't discount the decisions a person has made all through his life. Decisions made that aren't made in line with God's laws are bad decisions."

In a recent AP poll, Americans were given the choice to back any of the leading Republican front-runners currently up for the presidential bid, but nearly one quarter were not confident with the current list of candidates.

The recent poll reflects the strong evangelical constituency inside the party, and how the current hopefuls are not necessarily meeting their expectations. The poll may reveal an opening for current underdogs such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback to move forward.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to finish strong in the Aug. 11 straw poll. He's the one top-tier GOP candidate that best aligns with conservative Christian values, some evangelicals say. But they have not overlooked his affiliation with Mormonism, which is a problem for some.

Lesser known GOP candidates, including Brownback and Huckabee, recently made serious efforts to reach out to Christians in Iowa. Aware of many undecided voters, they campaigned to pull in more of the evangelical and Christian vote before the straw poll, which could help boost their campaigns.

Brownback expressed confidence, saying his "pro-life/whole-life message" is resonating with evangelicals in the state.

Both Brownback and Huckabee oppose abortion and same-sex "marriage."

Some evangelicals, however, are wary of backing a second-tier candidate.

"People place their money on the horse they think will win," said Chuck Hurley, director of the Iowa Family Policy Center, told The Des Moines Register. "So the (straw poll) and primary are the places for people to stand on principle and work hard for a second- or third-tier candidate. They may become a first-tier candidate when their campaign catches fire."

In the meantime, Rose of First Federated Church reminds evangelical voters, "People need to remember we're not trying to elect a pastor, we're trying to elect a president."