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Republican Party Focusing on Evangelical Vote For 2016 Election, Warn 'We Are Letting Non-Believers Elect Our Leaders'

( [email protected] ) Oct 27, 2015 10:40 AM EDT
In a concentrated effort to take back the Presidency for the first time in two cycles, Republican party leaders are zoning in on a key group of voters: Evangelicals.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at the North Texas Presidential Forum hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Prestonwood Baptist Church. AP photo

In a concentrated effort to take back the Presidency for the first time in two cycles, Republican party leaders are zoning in on a key group of voters: Evangelicals.

According to statistics, as many 40-50 million Evangelicals failed to vote in 2012, an election in which President Obama beat Mitt Romney by some 5 million votes.

That's why, in looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election, the Republican Party has undertaken "a massive plan to engage millions of churchgoing Christian voters who did not vote in 2012", according to a report from the Washington Examiner.

"[Evangelicals are] the largest, most underappreciated, under-tapped voting bloc in all of American political history," said Chad Connelly, the Republican National Committee's director of faith engagement -- a position created in 2013 in an effort to avoid repeating the 2012 elections' losses.

Instead of going directly to churches, Connelly encourages pastors and church leaders to register their congregations to vote. In less than two years, he has spoken to 52,000 pastors, priests, and faith leaders, and traveled to 38 states, and expects his team to grow. Thus far he has concentrated on 11 potential states that Republicans hope to gain in 2016: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada.

"I'm talking about your Christian responsibility to vote biblical values. I'm not hanging the elephant around my neck," Connelly told the Washington Examiner of his efforts. "I'm not telling them they must vote Republican."

Hot button issues such as gay marriage, abortion and religious freedom, are key topics that will help build support among Evangelicals and social conservatives, Connelly argues.

"If I can motivate the pastor to speak biblical issues, I mean think about it whether it's marriage or life, or Israel, protection for Israel, biblical economics, debt, all those issues are covered in the Bible. And they all, it just so happens, the Republican Party is right on 'em," he said.

According to research from the Barna Group, a Christian polling organization based in California that Connelly said informed his work, millennial voters and practicing Christians have grown more concerned about religious freedom since Obama's re-election in 2012.

The study, conducted in September 2015,  found that the percentage of practicing-Christian millennials who think "religious freedom in the U.S. has grown worse in the past 10 years" now exceeds the percentage of Christian "Boomers." In 2012, approximately 32 percent of Christian millennials thought religious freedom had grown worse in the previous 10 years, while 55 percent of Christian millennials today think it has become worse.

Additionally, the the percentage of Christian millennials who are "very concerned" about forthcoming restrictions on religious freedom has nearly tripled since 2012.

"Over the last three years, younger Christians seem to have realized the incredible tension involved in issues of religious liberty," said David Kinnaman, the Barna Group's president. "Perhaps they are more aware of this tension because of their presence on social media, where things can get personal. They see the debates about things like same-sex marriage and Kim Davis happening in real time. Younger Christians are recognizing the implications for their future - what perhaps once felt like something that would only affect clergy and Christian leaders, now feels like it could have a bearing on life for ordinary citizens."

In light of these statistics, most of the GOP candidates have made Evangelicals a major part of their prospective coalitions and publicly tout their Christian faith.

On Sunday, Carly Fiorina, Sen. Ted Cruz, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Govs. Mick Huckabee and Jeb Bush, and Dr. Ben Carson attended a forum hosted by Faith & Freedom Coalition and Prestonwood Baptist Church in an effort to win the support of the Christian right.

In addition to discussing topics such as religious freedom, Islamic State terrorism, abortion, education and the economy, candidates were given 10 minutes for opening remarks followed by 15 minutes of Q&A with Prestonwood Baptist Church Pastor Jack Graham before an audience of 7,000 people.

"How can we ask God to bless a nation that for 42 years had ended the lives of 60 million unborn children?" Huckabee asked attendees. "This is uncivilized savagery for which we must repent. But we must do more than be sorry about it, we must change it."

He also encouraged Christians to vote, arguing that persecution and restrictions on religious freedom will only become more rampant: "One of the reasons I went to Kentucky to stand with Kim Davis, the elected Democrat county clerk of that county, is because if you can put an elected public official in jail for believing the biblical view of marriage, you can criminalize Christianity."

In turn, Cruz also asserted that Evangelicals have a responsibility to engage in the political arena and pastors should be leading the movement.

"If believers are staying home, if we are allowing our leaders to be elected by non-believers, is it any wonder we have a federal government that is assaulting life and marriage and religious liberty?" he asked.

Afterward, Graham told USA Today that he is encouraged to see "a surge of interest among Evangelicals" ahead of the 2016 election.

"I sense there's a renewed faith - a fervor if you will - to engage in the process," he said.