Although they get little attention from candidates, white
evangelical Christian voters are likely to be fundamental to any
Republican victories in the key Senate races, especially in the
Reuters/Ipsos polling data shows evangelicals are more enthusiastic
than the general population about the midterms.
The religious right's influence may be much reduced since the days
of Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell's alliances with Republican
But Christian conservatives will probably vote in greater numbers on
Nov. 4 than others, giving them an outsized say in who runs
Congress. Forty-nine percent of evangelicals say they have a great
deal of interest or quite a bit of interest in news about the
elections, compared to 38 percent of non-evangelicals.
"It strongly shows that the evangelical population is very engaged,
very interested in what's happening and much easier to turn out for
an election than the population as a whole," said Ipsos pollster
Almost 40 percent of Republicans said they were born-again or
evangelical Christians, according to the online survey.
The party loyalty is striking given that Republican candidates have
largely avoided evangelicals' pet topics like opposition to abortion
and gay marriage for fear of alienating moderate voters in tight
U.S. Senate races.
In one of the few Senate contests where social issues have taken
center stage, Colorado Republican Cory Gardner distanced himself
from his earlier support for "personhood" bills backed by
evangelicals. Such bills would define fetuses as people, and could
lead to abortion and some forms of birth control being declared as
In Iowa, Republican Senate hopeful Joni Ernst seemingly softened her
strong opposition to abortion when she suggested in a debate this
month that there could be exceptions if the mother's life is at
The Supreme Court's decision earlier this month to allow gay
marriages by rejecting appeals from five states seeking to ban them
was a landmark in longrunning culture wars, but it passed without
much fuss on midterm campaign trails.
"The candidates, certainly the Democratic candidates, are not
talking about these issues and in most cases the Republican
candidates aren't talking about these issues, so we are going to
talk about them," said veteran conservative activist Ralph Reed.
His Faith and Freedom Coalition has launched what Reed said is its
"most muscular" turnout operation yet. It includes making 10 million
phone calls to potential voters and an aggressive ad campaign of
The idea is to ensure enough evangelical turnout to swing Senate
races in states such as Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Iowa,
Colorado, North Carolina and Kentucky, where polls show the average
gap between the top candidates is in the low single digits.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win the Senate.
In some ways, Reed is preaching to the choir. White evangelicals
have long had a high rate of midterm voting and more than
three-quarters of them backed Republican Mitt Romney against
President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
"Evangelicals have in fact become one of the core constituencies in
the Republican Party. Because they see themselves that way, we see
their willingness to vote consistently Republican, even though you
could point to a number of issues where the Republican-led House (of
Representatives)really hasnít moved much on their agenda," said
Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute polling
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MORE THAN GAY MARRIAGE
Chad Connelly, the Republican National Committee's pointman for
faith voters, said evangelical voters are motivated by worry about
the economy and mistrust of Obama, adding, "it's too much of a
cliche," to think they care mostly about social policy.
Conservative Christians at a Baptist church in Springdale, Arkansas,
had a long list of issues that matter to them.
"Where a candidate stands on marriage, immigration, the economy:
it's all important. I don't think Obama's doing a good job with
terrorism either," said Mary Baker, a retiree.
Nevertheless, the stress was on social issues when she and some 20
others at the church watched a national webcast by evangelical
leaders who urged the faithful to support "Biblical" values at
While the hosts did not specifically ask people to vote Republican,
they told Christians to back candidates who hold conservative
positions on abortion, freedom of religious expression, and same-sex
The congregation mostly agreed. Some voiced disappointment that
Republicans failed to choose a Christian conservative as
presidential nominee at the last two elections.
"We end up with a crippled duck every time," said Charles Fast, 70,
a former policeman.
In the Arkansas Senate race, a Fox News poll this month gave
Republican Tom Cotton a 34-point lead over Democratic Sen. Mark
Pryor among white, born-again Christian voters.
Even if their votes sway the next Congress, Christian conservatives
are going through a difficult period of soul searching over falling
church attendance and America's shifting attitudes toward gay
"When same-sex marriages are being conducted in Oklahoma, the
culture has shifted dramatically. We have to be honest about that,"
said Russell Moore, the most prominent leader of the Southern
White Protestants are shrinking as a proportion of the U.S.
population. And Moore's denomination, the largest Protestant group
in America, has lost membership every year since 2007 as young
people drift away. An internal survey found a quarter of Southern
Baptist churches that reported statistics did not baptize a single
person in 2012.
(Editing by Frances Kerry)
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