Saturday, September 23, 2006

U.S. conservatives frustrated by Republicans

U.S. conservatives frustrated by Republicans
By John Whitesides and Ed Stoddard

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Religious conservatives voiced frustration on Friday with Republican Party leaders and their failure to push key social initiatives through the U.S. Congress and said it could hurt voter turnout in November's elections.

At a "Values Voters Summit" sponsored by leading religious conservative groups, some activists said President George W. Bush and Republican leaders showed too much pragmatism and too little concern for issues like abortion, immigration and banning gay marriage.

"There is no question people are frustrated with the Republican Party. The message it sends is: 'We don't care where you stand, we just want you to be a Republican,'" said Phil Burress, president of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values.

Burress was a leader in the state's 2004 fight for a ballot initiative banning gay marriage, credited with helping turn out conservative support for Bush. He said he was not sure religious conservatives would turn out with the same vigor in 2006.

"There is a big number who may not show up to vote," he said.

Social and religious conservatives are a crucial Republican voting bloc as the party battles to keep control of Congress in November's elections. Bolstering their turnout has been a top concern for the White House.

"In the next weeks before the election they are going to realize that if they want to mobilize the conservative social values base they are going to have to keep our issues on the agenda and not just pay lip service," said Chris Slattery, an anti-abortion activist from New York.

"There is some sense the people's priorities haven't necessarily been Washington's priorities. There is frustration," said Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, one of a handful of potential 2008 Republican White House candidates who addressed the gathering.

Also speaking at the conference were Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Virginia Sen. George Allen.

Speaking on Saturday will be Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Allen and Santorum face tough re-election fights in November.

"People who are tired of K Street corruption and Wall Street greed are ready for some old-fashioned Main Street values," Huckabee said in a reference to the corridors of political and financial power in Washington and New York.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said Republican congressional leaders had rallied spirits with a summer agenda that featured issues like immigration, stem cell research and parental notification laws on abortion.

"It's brought back some trust and confidence in the leadership," Perkins said, although he acknowledged, "I don't think the enthusiasm is at the level it was in 2004."

Mentions of Bush and his leadership drew cheers from the crowd, but several attendees said the president could have done more for their movement.

"It would have been nice to see that bully pulpit used more ... on same-sex marriage and issues of life," said Thomas McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council.