LUFKIN, Texas – Eugene Brookshire is a Christian conservative who intends to vote in next year's presidential election, even though none of the candidates have touched his soul.
"It's a shame we're going to be voting for the lesser of the two evils – or the 10 evils," he said.
And for evangelicals who gathered recently for the first in a series of national rallies on faith and politics, the message was clear: Republican losses in 2006 could be a harbinger of things to come unless the party re-energizes its most loyal bloc of voters.
Long the driving force behind Republican success, many Christian conservatives are disappointed over the GOP's failure to deliver on issues they care about and divided over the candidates and moral agenda that will animate them.
For that and other reasons, the conservative Christian movement faces a moment of political decision. Its ultimate champion, George W. Bush, is in the final stage of his presidency. The candidates to replace him have received a lackluster reaction from voters such as Mr. Brookshire. Democrats are starting to claim the mantle of faith in a different way. And many conservative evangelicals are beginning to question the movement's political priorities and focus instead on issues from the environment to terrorism.
"You certainly wouldn't want to write them off," said John Green, a scholar who studies the role of faith in politics. "However, there is a great deal of flux within these religious communities, a big debate over the agenda and some real unhappiness with the Republican Party."
Archive: Democrats embrace faith, stress moral agenda
Faith talk is derided
Some even warn that if the party doesn't maintain its emphasis on social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage, many traditional-value voters will stay home – or support a third-party challenger in 2008.
"We are looking at a referendum on whether religious conservatives will remain loyal to the GOP or whether they will break into pieces," said Deal Hudson, a conservative Catholic and head of the Washington-based Morley Institute for Church and Culture.
Yes, this Deal Hudson, a defender of "traditional marriage" who sexually harrasses his students.
Without Christian conservatives, Ronald Reagan would not have been elected in 1980. They were instrumental in electing the Republican Congress in 1994 and twice helped provide the margin of victory for George W. Bush.
In 2004, white evangelicals made up 40 percent of President Bush's re-election vote. Driven by a conservative-values agenda and fears of terrorism, they turned out in big numbers in 2004 and broke 3-to-1 for Mr. Bush over Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
But the 2006 midterm elections served as a setback for the GOP, in part because these core voters were turned off by sex-and-ethics scandals.
Their unhappiness continues, bursting forth in polls and interviews about the GOP front-runners seeking the White House.
While former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani gets leeway from some evangelicals because of his focus on terrorism, his support of abortion rights troubles others.
"I would have real problems with Giuliani," said Teresa Kezan, a Christian conservative who attended the recent Lufkin rally with her husband, Mark.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose campaign has foundered in recent weeks, is not a favorite of evangelicals, either.
As for the third front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Mrs. Kezan said she is not sure whether his recent conversion to socially conservative stances on abortion and other issues represents a change of heart or political convenience.
Some hold out hope that former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who hasn't formally entered the race yet, will be the candidate to unite the field. But he's not well-known, and questions have been raised about his history on the abortion issue.
Asked whether she supports anybody in the presidential field, Mrs. Kezan laughed and said, "Not yet."
This is an excellent article. The only quibble I have, is the reporter contacted the discredited Deal Hudson for comment.