Monday, July 12, 2004

Social Conservatives Want More of Their Own to Speak at the G.O.P. Convention

July 12, 2004

Social Conservatives Want More of Their Own to Speak at the G.O.P. Convention

Some prominent conservatives say they are upset at the apparent exclusion of the champions of their favorite issues from the limelight of the Republican convention in favor of more moderate members of the party.

Conservatives said they were surprised to see former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Senator John McCain of Arizona - all moderate Republicans who oppose the proposed constitutional amendment blocking same-sex marriage - given high-profile roles at the convention, with few conservative Republicans on the list.

"I hate to say it, but the conservatives, for the most part, are not excited about re-electing the president," warned Paul Weyrich, the longtime Christian conservative organizer, in an e-mail newsletter on Friday. "If the president is embarrassed to be seen with conservatives at the convention, maybe conservatives will be embarrassed to be seen with the president on Election Day."

Pleasing both moderates and conservatives at the convention has been a challenge for the Republican Party in recent elections. In 1992, after a bruising primary battle over social conservative issues, the party gave the outspoken traditionalists like Patrick J. Buchanan a major share of convention airtime. Many strategists later argued that their battle cries of a culture war over abortion, gay rights and feminism contributed to the defeat of the first President George Bush by driving away moderate voters.

Seizing on that lesson, George W. Bush was nominated in 2000 at a strikingly different convention dominated by images of inclusion and his calls for "compassionate conservatism," with little discussion of abortion or other priorities of social conservatives.

Prime airtime is particularly precious this year because the networks have said that they plan to limit their hours of coverage of the conventions. And at the Republican event in New York City - Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 - the Bush campaign appears to be following the template used in 2000.

The speakers' roster makes room for many moderate Republicans, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, as well as Education Secretary Rod Paige, Laura Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney. But conservatives have noted with alarm that so far, aside from Mr. Bush, the only like-minded social conservative with a featured speaking role is Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat from Georgia.

"When the only Reagan Republican to enjoy a prominent supporting role at the party's convention is a Democrat, the G.O.P. has a serious identity problem," Kate O'Beirne, the Washington editor of the conservative National Review, wrote in a column posted on its Web site last Wednesday. The list, she wrote, "is not the mark of a self-confident party establishment," adding, "if the lineup is intended to make an overwhelmingly conservative party attractive to swing voters, it does so by pretending to be something it's not."

Yesterday, Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said: "The Republican Party is a national party, and the convention lineup will reflect the broad national appeal of the Republican Party. When the speaker lineup is complete, it will reflect that."

This year, Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, has emphasized the importance of turning out conservative churchgoers whose votes fell four million short of his projections in 2000. Bush campaign pollsters have concluded that frequent churchgoers are likely to vote disproportionately Republican and made them a major target of voter registration efforts.

And as the Democratic campaign of Senator John Kerry has tried to reclaim "values" rhetoric over the last week, Mr. Bush has turned up his own talk of opposition to abortion and especially same-sex marriage. He devoted his radio address on Saturday to supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, which is scheduled for a vote in the Senate this week.

"We had been assured months ago that as this vote happened the president would take an active role - both publicly and on Capitol Hill," said Gary L. Bauer, a social conservative candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 and the founder of the organization American Values. "So they are keeping their word and my hat goes off to them for that."

But Mr. Bauer added, "If they are going to win the values debate - and it looks like there is going to be one - it is important for the president's words to be reinforced by other major personalities at the convention." He said social conservatives were continuing to push for greater representation at the convention, as well as for Mr. Bush to take up abortion, same-sex marriage and similar issues prominently in his own address at the convention.

Some Christian conservatives were already feeling sensitive to perceived slights from the Bush campaign, in part because of how hard it is pushing for their help in turning out voters. Some had already reacted badly to reports of the Bush campaign's efforts to recruit churchgoers to help turn out their fellow worshipers, including by sending the campaign their church registries and by speaking about the election to church groups.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, issued a statement saying, "I'm appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way."

He added, "I am fearful that it may provoke a backlash in which pastors will tell their churches that because of this intrusion the church is not going to do any voter registration or voter education."

The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, said that many conservative Christians felt the Bush campaign had made mistakes, including its outreach to churches and the omission of more social conservatives from the convention so far. "This campaign has done some dumb things," he said. "They have alienated people who they desperately need, big time."

Mr. Schmidt, the spokesman for the Bush campaign, said that polls show that support for Mr. Bush among the Republican base is at record levels, comparable to support for President Ronald Reagan.

On Friday, as the Senate began debating the amendment on same-sex marriage, the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, placed an advertisement in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call listing Governor Schwarzenegger, Governor Pataki, Senator McCain and Mr. Giuliani. "Want to get a prime time spot at the Republican National Convention?" the advertisement asked. "Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment."

Hoping to turn the same advertisement into a message to the convention planners, Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative Family Research Council, sent flowers to Cheryl Jacques, the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, with a note that said, "Dear Cheryl, per your ad in Roll Call - thank you."