Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US evangelists lobbying for Bush and Christ

PULPIT POWER Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for George Bush in 2000 and are the Republicans' fastest-growing support base, which may be decisive in November

AP , WASHINGTON

With choruses of amens, Christian activists on Friday affirmed that they have the power, with a little prayer and a lot of legwork, to assure that US President George W. Bush stays in the White House.

"I feel a responsibility," said Bob Paquet, a pastor from Hankins, New York, "to use what influence I can so that the values I believe in, biblical values, will be upheld."

Paquet was one of about 1,000 people attending a Christian Coalition of America conference, where they are being trained in organizing voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in their churches and neighborhoods. He said he'll be helping transport people to the polls.

Christian Coalition president Roberta Combs said that four years ago the coalition sent out 70 million voter guides and made 1 million get-out-the-vote phone calls. She said those numbers might go down this time, as the group concentrates on the battleground states.

She said 87 percent of evangelicals voted for Bush in 2000 and the focus this time is the estimated 4 million who stayed home: "Four years ago they weren't sure who George Bush was. This time they are sure."

The Reverend Jerry Falwell said the numbers, if they can be mobilized, are on their side. He said there are 80 million evangelicals now and that will grow to 100 million in five to seven years.

"We're the only constituency growing within the Republican Party," Falwell said.

The coalition's national field director, Bill Thompson, told the group: "We are not going to let Christians sit at home this year. There will be no missing evangelicals this year."

Sue Banks of Atlanta, attending her first Christian Coalition conference, said she planned to help transport people to the polls, "people I know who haven't voted in a long time."

Alexia Kelley, director of religious outreach for the Democratic National Committee, argued that Republicans do not have a lock on evangelicals, and Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign will be seeking their vote in every state.

Evangelicals, she said, "are dis-illusioned because of the compassion gap." Millions of Americans have lost health insurance or jobs, she said, and "they are looking to John Kerry."

After listening to inspirational speeches on Thursday and Friday from a long line of conservatives, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Senator Orrin Hatch and Falwell, conference participants were to attend seminars yesterday on election laws, voter education, becoming a church liaison and other ways to get like-minded Christians to the polls.

Hastert cheered the audience by telling them the House next week will take up a constitutional amendment on gay marriage.

"We want to have a vote so people in every state will know where their elected representatives stand," said Republican Representative Marilyn Musgrave, a chief sponsor of the gay-marriage legislation.

Gay marriage, said Combs, could have a huge impact on voter turnout.

Combs said Kerry and Bush had been invited to address the gathering. But the political leanings were clear from both the speakers and the audience.

"There is only one pro-life party in the United States of America," said Representative Mike Pence, the newly chosen head of Republican conservatives in the House. "There is one candidate in this race who is prepared to lead with moral courage."

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