Two years after receiving credit for energizing a voting bloc important to the re-election of President George W. Bush, leaders of the Religious Right are now turning attention to helping Republicans retain control of Congress.

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family is coordinating an effort to register and mobilize evangelical voters in eight states with closely watched races in the Senate, House and state governments.

Dobson’s public-policy arm, Focus on the Family Action, also plans rallies this fall in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Tennessee–all states with key Senate races.

Hoping to capitalize on Bush’s low approval ratings and waning support for the war in Iraq, Democrats view their best chance at gaining ground in the House. But they are growing more optimistic about taking away the GOP’s nominal control of the Senate.

Focus on the Family responded by partnering with other pro-family groups to combat voter apathy and encourage Christians to go to the polls. The effort includes recruiting county and church coordinators in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Minnesota, Montana and Tennessee. It calls for recruiting support from key evangelical churches and encouraging pastors to preach about Christian citizenship, register voters and hand out voter guides.

“The Nov. 7 election will present Americans with a tremendous opportunity to make decisions that will affect the direction of our country for years to come,” according to a press release. “But many Christians feel their vote does not count. In 2004, about 25 million evangelicals failed to vote. Now is the time to reverse the trend.”

Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family Action, is scheduled to appear at “Stand for the Family” arena events aimed at educating and motivating “pro-family Christians” in three states with important races on the ballot this fall. Other speakers include Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Gary Bauer, president of American Values.

Rallies are scheduled Sept. 20 in Pittsburgh, Oct. 3 in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Oct. 16 in Nashville. Each city is in a key battleground state for the Senate.

Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is viewed as the most vulnerable senator seeking re-election this year. Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. holds a double-digit lead over Santorum, despite entry by a third party candidate, Green Party nominee Carl Romanelli, who has 5 percent of the vote.

In Minnesota, Sen. Mark Dayton, a one-term Democrat, decided not to run again. Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the Hennepin County Attorney, leads Republican Mark Kennedy in the race for the open seat 50 percent to 38 percent.

Tennessee, where Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is retiring and reportedly considering a run for president in 2008, is regarded a “lean” GOP state in the Senate balance of power.

President Bush travels to Nashville Aug. 30 for a $2,100-per-person dinner to raise money for Bob Corker, the Republican Senate candidate and former mayor of Chattanooga. Former President Clinton was in town Aug. 3 for an event that raised $1 million for Corker’s opponent Harold Ford, Jr., a five-term congressman from Memphis, and Tennessee Democrats.

Dobson earlier targeted six Democratic “red-state” senators for defeat in 2006 for opposing the president’s judicial nominees. None are included in his new eight-race focus. In the one state that overlaps, Minnesota, the incumbent, Dayton, isn’t running.

A Baptist ethicist termed Dobson the “chief priest of the Religious Right” and challenged the claim that he is upholding Christian values.

“Christians should vote Jesus’ values–those he taught and those he walked, not James Dobson’s values,” said Robert Parham of the BaptistCenter for Ethics. “Those of us who know Jesus know James is no Jesus.”

Churches that participate in Dobson’s voter-education project are likely to face increased scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. While churches are free to speak out on social issues, they must refrain from partisan politicking if they want to receive tax-exempt benefits from the IRS.

Parham encouraged real Christians “to say no to James Dobson and yes to biblical values.”

“The Bible calls us to care for the poor, to do justice, to create a fair society, to work for peace, to look after the ill, to preserve the environment, to practice integrity in the marketplace, to treat strangers with hospitality and to tell the truth,” Parham said. “The Bible also teaches us that people of faith have a moral responsibility to criticize the state’s wrong directions and harmful policies.

“Unfortunately, Dobson and his kind ignore the Hebrew prophets and privatize Jesus in favor of a pre-packaged ideological agenda from the Republican Party.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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