Seeking to appeal to swing voters without alienating its base, the Republican Party heads into next week’s national convention with a conservative platform and a moderate face.
The party platform–a non-binding statement of GOP positions and principles–endorses a constitutional ban on gay marriage backed by President Bush, a ban on abortions and limited federal funding for research with embryonic stem cells.
Speakers scheduled during prime time at the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden, meanwhile, include moderates like former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even one Democrat, Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, who chides his own party in a best-selling book, appears Wednesday night alongside Vice President Dick Cheney.
The contrast illustrates the tightrope the Bush campaign must walk to satisfy and motivate religious conservatives without driving other voters away. Both sides say their votes are vital for Bush to win re-election.
Gary Bauer, president of the conservative group American Values, earlier this week said comments by Cheney that he disagrees with the president about the need for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage “could confuse and demoralize voters that President Bush desperately needs.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he wasn’t terribly surprised by Cheney’s comment, because the vice president has stated his position in the past. “If this were reversed, and Cheney were president and Bush were vice president,” Land said in Baptist Press, “it would guarantee the defeat of the Republican ticket.”
Other observers, however, note that no viable candidate for a third party has emerged in the race and doubt that many religious conservatives will pull the lever for Sen. John Kerry.
But others warn that taking religious voters for granted could result in millions just staying home on Election Day. The Bush campaign believes that 4 million fewer evangelicals went to the polls in 2000 than in 1996 and have worked overtime to court Christian voters.
The campaign was criticized for asking volunteers to turn over church directories and is looking to benefit from various religion-based voter education and registration campaigns, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s iVoteValues.com.
Conservatives dominated the committee process of drafting the 2004 GOP platform, which will be adopted at the convention. They rejected a so-called “unity plank” offered by gay-rights and abortion-rights supporters welcoming opposing views on those issues.
Instead, the committee adopted an amendment calling Republicans “the party of the open door” that would “respect and accept” differing views.
Sen. Bill Frist, chairman of the platform committee, said the language was intended to demonstrate the party’s inclusiveness, according to Reuters. Ann Stone, chairwoman of Republicans for Choice, called the compromise “crumbs” and “pretty pathetic.”
Earlier in the process, however, some conservatives grumbled that the platform didn’t go far enough after the committee rejected an amendment calling for laws to block all research using embryonic stem cells.
Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union, called the platform “a bland and uninspiring document” that lacked “solid conservative meat,” according to the New York Times.
A University of Pennsylvania survey last month said Republicans failed to make hoped-for significant gains among minority voters in the last four years, but their core support among evangelicals and born-again white Protestants is stronger.
A Pew Survey earlier this week said more Americans view the Republican Party than the Democratic Party as being friendly to religion, but a majority approve of stem-cell research and oppose amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage, positions contrary to those stated by President Bush.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.