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September 4, 2004
Column #1,201 

                                  How Will the Religious Vote?
 
     According to the Census, about 30 percent of Americans are not even
registered to vote - 55 million Americans. In 2000 only 53 percent of eligible Americans voted. That figure fell to only 39 percent in 2002 mid-term elections.

     Carl Rove, President Bush's top political strategist, has lamented that four million evangelicals who he expected to vote for Bush in 2000 did not vote at all.

     These numbers were in my mind as I watched the Republican Convention during its first three days. Were the speakers persuasive to those who oppose abortion or favor a Constitutional Amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman?

     The most prominent speakers on Monday and Tuesday - former New York Mayor
Rudy Guiliani, Sen. John McCain and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - did not
mention either issue. Why? They support gay marriage and abortion.

     All three were passionately enthusiastic of President Bush because of his handling of terrorism, and as a strong and decisive leader. In fact, their prominence as liberals on social issues may have the benefit of attracting moderates who disagree with Bush on abortion or same- sex marriage, but agree with Schwarzenegger that the President is "a man of inner strength, a leader who doesn't flinch, doesn't waver, does not back down."

     However, will this be persuasive with evangelicals who did not bother to vote in 2000? That's questionable.

     True, Sen. Elizabeth Dole did speak about her faith at 8 p.m. (Eastern time) on Tuesday: "Two thousand years ago, a man said, "I have come to give life and to give it in full. In America I have the freedom to call that man Lord, and I do," citing John 10:10. "The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion," she said to applause.

     However, her remarks were not part of the tiny one hour of network broadcast time allotted to Convention coverage. And the much smaller audiences watching cable TV could not have seen her in the West where it was only 5 p.m.

     Similarly, Sen. Brownback, a recent Catholic convert, recalled that "A fundamental principle of our democracy and our Republican Party is respect for the inherent dignity, equality and sanctity of every human life...At our party's convention in 1860, we...nominated Abraham Lincoln, and we denounced and ultimately defeated the scourge of slavery."

     He then noted that "President Bush has committed record levels of support" to fight AIDS which has already killed 20 million people. His plan to fight AIDS, malaria and TB with $15 billion "will treat 2 million people, prevent 7 million new infections and care for 10 million orphans."

     Brownback added, "From the child in the womb to the mother carrying her, this nation and this president will fight for you. Why? Because each is wonderfully made, and what we do for the so-called `least of these' we do for our creator. We are leading the world in a heroic rescue of human life. This is the essence of compassionate conservatism. It is the mettle of George Bush."

     However, his remarks were not broadcast by network TV either. Few of those
4 million non-voting evangelicals heard him.

     What ABC, CBS and NBC did air were powerful attacks on Sen. John Kerry by
Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller and by the Vice President. Partisans loved
hearing a Senator who was the 1992 Democratic Convention's Keynoter, deliver the Republican's Keynote, attacking his own party as well as John Kerry:

     "For more than 20 years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and
security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure...While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief."

     On the other hand, 40 liberal Christian leaders and 40,000 citizens signed a petition declaring that "God is not a Republican...or a Democrat." It urged Americans to consider a wider range of moral issues on www.takebackourfaith.org.

     "When poverty has risen each of the past three years - that's a religious issue," said spokesman Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of "Sojourners" magazine. "The war in Iraq - that's a religious issue. Taking care of the environment - that's a religious issue...How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich and pro-war?"

     I predict a higher-than-usual voter turnout.

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