Religious Right Groups Uncertain About Which GOP Hopeful To Support

Religious Right activists and the organizations they represent remain unhappy with the current flock of Republican presidential hopefuls, and some are gravitating toward former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, who has yet to announce his candidacy.

The Thompson boomlet got a further boost last month when news reports indicated that Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Rel­i­gious Liberty Commission, would introduce Thompson during a meeting of the Council for National Policy (CNP) in Virginia.

The CNP is a secretive organization of far-right figures. Although the group normally shuns media publicity, The Politico, a Washington-based publication that covers politics, reported on the Land-Thompson connection May 9.

Land represents a tax-exempt religious denomination, but he has not let that stop him from acting as a political powerbroker, freely handicapping the GOP race. He has announced that he will not vote for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House.

Land’s decision to introduce Thomp­son to the CNP has been interpreted as a sign that he supports the ex-senator’s effort. Thompson has yet to officially announce his candidacy but is expected to do so soon. Land has praised Thomp­son in the past, calling him a “Southern-fried Reagan.”

The CNP has had a hard time finding a candidate to back. Nearly a dozen Republicans are running, but the group has been unable to line up behind one. The Knight Ridder New Service reported in April that the CNP “tried and failed to reach consensus in February on a GOP candidate to support.”

Some in the CNP reportedly like the views of candidates like U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) but worry about their electability.

Most Religious Right activists consider Giuliani too liberal on social issues, and some still distrust U.S. Sen. John McCain, who in 2000 lashed out at Religious Right leaders as “agents of intolerance.” Others are wary of former Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mor­mon who has flip-flopped on key social issues like abortion and gay rights.

“We’re actively shopping,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Re­search Council, told Knight Ridder. “We’ve got our spec list, and we’re seeing who fits…. There’s still a lot of time before the election.”

Other Religious Right leaders are taking a more practical approach. The Rev. Jerry Falwell has said his main goal is to keep U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) out of the White House. Falwell said he will support any Republican who can do that – even Giuliani.

“If we have to hold our nose and vote for somebody to keep Clinton out of the White House, we have to do it,” Falwell said. “There are no Ronald Reagans out there. Sure, we have to win the abortion battle and the pro-family battle, but not in the next inning.”