Election 2008


A number of conservative religious leaders handed out endorsements for presidential candidates this week. Senator Sam Brownback drew his support behind Senator John McCain. Paul Weyrich, who's long been a key organizer in the Christian right, announced he's backing Mitt Romney. And televangelist Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani.

To talk about the apparent divide among social conservatives, we called Dr. Richard Land. He's president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. RICHARD LAND (President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention): It doesn't surprise me. The conservatives, evangelical conservative leaders, have been trying for months to come to some consensus on a candidate and they were unable to do so. Their last effort to try to do that was after the Values Voter Summit, and they tell me that they made an agreement that they would each be free to go their own way. And so they are going their own way.

And this is not all that unusual. If you go back to 2000, Gary Bauer was running for president, and he had support from some of the social conservatives. And John Ashcroft was running for president, and he had support for some of the social conservatives. Alan Keyes was very popular. But once the nominee became apparent, they rallied behind the social conservative George W. Bush. And I think the same thing will happen this time unless it's Giuliani.

NORRIS: Well, you know, I was going to ask you about that, because you're saying they're going their own way. In some cases, it seems like they're going off script in supporting - in Giuliani's case, Pat Robertson supporting a candidate who supports abortion rights…

Dr. LAND: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: …who supports gay rights, and the case of Paul Weyrich supporting candidate who is not sort of the Christian cloth. So it seems that the party and the conservative bloc are drifting sort of far from their core of values.

Dr. LAND: Well, I don't think so. I think in Giuliani's case, that's a legitimate point. I mean, I find - in Robertson's case, you know, when I'm asked about that, I say that, you know, it's been my observation over the last 25 years of observing public life that when things were in a state of flux, establishment folks tend to gravitate towards establishment folks. And Rudy Giuliani is the Republican establishment candidate. And Pat Robertson is an establishment guy. But he's the odd person out here.

In terms of Romney, there are a lot of people who are social conservatives and who are either evangelicals or Catholics who have announced their support for Romney. Romney's doing okay.

NORRIS: Now, even though that evangelical Christians are often painted as a monolithic bloc, how do Democratic or independent evangelicals fit in this picture?

Dr. LAND: Well, the majority of evangelicals do not identify themselves as either Republicans or Democrats. And let me speak now for the constituency I know best, which is the Southern Baptist constituency, which is 16.4 million folks and 43,700 churches. Most of them did not grow up in Republican homes. Most of them have been voting solidly Republican starting with the 1980 presidential election. But they've not been doing so because they see themselves as voting Republican. They see themselves as voting pro-life.

And if the Republicans are foolish enough to take the life issue off the table - that bright-line distinction - then they have given the Democrats the license to go hunting for evangelical and conservative social Catholic voters, because they're not nearly as convinced that the Republican Party is right when it comes to some economic justice issues. They're not nearly as convinced that the Republican Party is right when it comes to some environmental issues and they're not nearly as convinced that the Republicans are right when it comes to some of the racial reconciliation issues.

NORRIS: Now, one quick question that will take us back to where we began. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the endorsements at this point are spread all over the place in terms of support?

Dr. LAND: Well, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. I think that it shows that they're going to have to compete for the vote and that no one can take it for granted. And I think what's going on right now in the Republican primaries is fairly similar to what happened in the winter of 2003 and early 2004 with the Democratic Party. You had Howard Dean and then everyone else competing to be the un-Howard. Now, you've got Rudy playing the Dean role and you've got everybody else competing to be the electable alternative to Rudy.

And I think one of those figures is going to emerge and then you're going to have a knockdown drag-out between the Rudy and the non-Rudy for the nomination.

NORRIS: Dr. Richard Land, thank you for speaking with us.

Dr. LAND: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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