Values Voters Sip From Tea Party Cup

Fifth Annual Values Voter Summit Held In Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at the Values Voter Summit Friday in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty

Values Voters have been called many things: the Christian right, social conservatives, evangelicals and more. Names aside, they are most known for being a dedicated subset of the Republican Party that focuses on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

A few years ago, Values Voters were a driving force in elections across the country. Now the spotlight has shifted to their brethren, the Tea Party, which is primarily concerned with fiscal issues. Is there really much difference between the two parties, or are their messages starting to overlap?


A Gathering Of Values Voters

That was apparent at the recent Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. The four-day event brought together big-name speakers with a mission to "protect marriage, champion life, strengthen the military, limit government, control spending and defend our freedoms," according to the event's website.

One of those speakers was South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, the highest ranking office holder associated with the Tea Party. His PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, is responsible for backing and sometimes grooming candidates who have recently pulled off unexpected victories in Alaska, Kentucky and Delaware.

He tells NPR's Mike Pesca that he sees a clear link between Tea Partiers and Values Voters.

"There is a relationship, and I think there is a strong faith component in the Tea Party movement," he says. But there's a difference in the Tea Party that he hasn't seen in previous conservative movements like Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. "They're not pushing religion, they're not even pushing morality. They just consider bankruptcy as a moral issue."

DeMint emphasizes what he sees as the enormity and lasting power of the Tea Party movement.

"Keep in mind the Tea Parties are just the tip of the iceberg," he says. "I think people are seeing that the power really is in their hands if they care enough to be informed and speak out and sometimes take to their feet."

"I don't think this is going to go away, because power has shifted from Washington to the people, and I don't think they are going to let it go."


Shared Values; Slightly Different Agendas

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma also spoke at the Values Voter Summit. Chief among his concerns, he told his audience, was the potential abolishment of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that forbids openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

"I was an Army veteran,  and I think any of the veterans in this room — I don't have to tell you the problems that would happen if you had an open gay situation there where it allows people to use the military as a forum for their liberal agenda," he told the crowd.

Inhofe says he doesn't see much of a difference between Values Voters and Tea Partiers, even though social issues like Don't Ask, Don't Tell aren't supposed to be on the top of the Tea Party agenda.

Many Values Voters seem to agree. It seems like a natural choice to tack social issues onto a movement that has already gained notable momentum and attention.

"I think a lot of the same people show up at both because people are animated by the same things," attendee Bill Randals of Kansas City, Mo., says. "I mean, we tend to see the same people, whether we're going to local Republican clubs or to our church, or Tea Party rallies, or to events like this."

Fellow attendee Todd Dexter of Plano, Texas, agrees.

"I think the truth is, these people care very deeply about pro-life issues, care very deeply about the sanctity of marriage — kind of the moral values that we believe are the foundation of our country," he says. "It may not be the official position [of the Tea Party], but for those who go to those rallies, they very much embrace that."

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