Last weekend, as Chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition (HILC), I was privileged to be a co-sponsor of the premiere Christian, political conference - the Values Voter Summit. The summit featured a combination of some of the nation’s most popular talk show hosts, pundits, ministers, and newsmakers. Over 2,100 people were physically present with approximately 8,000 additional folks watching via Internet.
This conference typically attracts a combination of lay people, clergy, and Christian activists. Interestingly the term “Values Voters” was created by the news media as a way of describing people that voted against John Kerry in 2004. The conference was first launched just three short years ago; the event has grown steadily in influence each year. Although it’s hard to measure the impact of a conference upon a regional or national election, the national media widely covered the event.
Last year the entire field of Republican presidential candidates was present and accounted for. During last year’s conference, Senator Sam Brownback made his exit announcement from the campaign – in addition Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee emerged as forces to contend with in the primary elections. Although no Democratic candidates showed up at all, it gave values voters an opportunity to decide how to engage in the primary season.
This year’s event had much fewer opportunities for surprises. Occurring just days after both the Republican and Democratic conventions, it was the perfect place to ascertain how motivated the participants would be to support either Obama or McCain. The event was awash with enthusiasm for the McCain/Palin ticket. In fact this was the most unified I have seen the evangelical camp in over two years.
If the McCain campaign continues to fan the flames of the enthusiasm of this group, he may well overcome the popularity of Obama and his “history making” campaign. After all, the Palin factor gives McCain a “history making” campaign as well.
There is one thing that could torpedo McCain’s efforts – a sense that McCain is playing the race card against his opponent instead of using a legitimate political strategy. If the race is determined by the content of the candidates’ character and a sportsman like contest, Americans will have realized Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. Therefore, even if Senator Obama is not elected president, the nation will acknowledge this as a watershed moment for the entire country. On the other hand, if racial slurs and prejudice are used by McCain supports it could cause a backlash among undecided voters that will cause the McCain/Palin ticket to lose.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.