Republican voters rejecting social conservatives

Posted: Sep 07, 2006 12:01 AM
Republican voters rejecting social conservatives

First, a quick note to those around the country who read this column each week. I'm still receiving e-mails and letters commenting on my recent column about political agendas creeping into private schools. I greatly appreciate the response.

As I focus on one topic and then another from week to week, I find myself accused now of being a right-wing fanatic, and then a liberal softy who doesn't like Christians. Another frequent criticism is that I focus too much on happenings in Florida.

Before this week's short and pointed message, let me address some of these criticisms. And forgive me, long-time readers, if I repeat myself. Fortunately, our readership has grown much lately, so not everyone has read the spiel.

Although I live in Atlanta, this column's flagship newspaper is the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. My work takes me all over -- Florida, Washington, D.C., and more. Being in the public-opinion research and political information business makes it necessary to travel light and cover a lot of ground.

This column is syndicated by Creators Syndicate, the nation's largest independent news syndicate. Wherever you might find this piece, on a website or in your hometown newspaper, please know that it's not written to promote any one political philosophy or to address readers in any one part of the nation.

What the column is dedicated to is analyzing political and social trends, usually based on public-opinion surveys or on an evaluation of often-complicated political or other news.

Just like anybody else, I'm not always correct in my judgments. And probably more than most people, I have enough flaws to require the asking of ongoing forgiveness from the Almighty in whom I believe.

So there it is. My semiannual disclaimer.

Why now? Because this week I have to deliver follow-up news to last week's column. In it, I suggested that the September 5 Republican primary in Florida might turn out to be a historic electoral test for any organized religious, conservative political machine that might exist, either in Florida or anywhere else.

We have an answer. Following the election blowout of Judge Roy "Ten Commandments" Moore in Alabama and the defeat of former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed in Georgia comes Tuesday's overwhelming victory by Florida's moderate Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist. By a two-to-one margin, he defeated the more socially conservative state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and moved one step closer to succeeding Jeb Bush as governor.

This tells me that the once-mighty "organized" Christian-conservative voting bloc is no longer intact.

For those preparing to condemn me to hell, please note that the key word in the above statement is "organized."

Doubtless, there will still be plenty of folks going to the polls this fall and beyond who hold strong, sincere Christian beliefs. And they will vote wholly or partially based on those beliefs.

Even so, the Crist-Gallagher contest stands as a prominent example of changes happening even now, in Florida and throughout the so-called Bible Belt.

Weeks prior to Election Day, Crist was so confident of his impending victory that he declared support for civil unions for gay couples in Florida.

Whatever one's moral position on this touchy topic, the salient point here is that as short as a few years ago, such a declaration by a candidate in a Republican primary would have been a kiss of death. But ever since Congress, in 2005, rushed to pass through a law to keep alive brain-damaged Terri Schiavo in defiance of Florida and federal courts, the public's mood on core social issues has shifted.

Indeed, a spokesperson for Schiavo's family during her final days alive was beaten soundly in a Florida state Senate race on Tuesday.

This trend can be seen in public survey after survey across the nation over the past months.

This isn't to say social conservatives and the organizations through which they speak and act -- like the Christian Coalition -- won't again rise to prominence. But for now, Republican voters across America are tending toward moderation on social issues. They are instead showing more concern for things like immigration, energy costs, security and their own financial futures.

So here's a memo to prospective Republican candidates for president in 2008: If you're looking for an army of organized evangelicals to carry you to the White House, you'd better put on your X-ray glasses. Right now, they're hard to see.

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