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Republicans worry old tactics won't draw voters
By Adam Nagourney The New York Times
MONDAY, APRIL 17, 2006
WASHINGTON In 2004, Karl Rove declared that President George W. Bush would win re-election if Republicans turned out millions of religious and other conservative voters who had stayed home in 2000. They did just that, with the help of voter outreach campaigns, a network of church appeals and state initiatives to ban gay marriage.
In 2006, with both the House and Senate in the balance, the Republican Party faces much the same challenge in this election. This time, though, party leaders say the conservative base seems enervated by administration missteps and unfulfilled expectations, and recent polls have reflected this.
"There is reason for them to be concerned," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative group.
The question for Republicans, then, is how to draw this crucial group to the polls and keep them voting for the party's candidates.
The short answer is that some of what may have worked last time - like initiatives to ban gay marriage - is on the runway, ready to go. But 2006 is nothing like 2004, and the get-out-the-vote tools wielded last time do not seem quite as formidable this year.
True, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, is currently planning to bring a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage to a vote in June.
So far, seven states have amendments against gay marriage on the ballot this November - South Dakota, Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado - according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, compared with 11 states in 2004. And there is now talk in some states, including Ohio, of a measure that would bar adoption by same-sex couples.
Yet there is a strong sense among Republicans that the gay rights issue is not as powerful as it once was, particularly when it comes to state initiatives like the one in Ohio that helped Bush carry the state in 2004. Republicans are running out of contested states where such a ballot could qualify and pass, and gay rights groups have been more aggressive in fighting these initiatives as they appear.
"Gay marriage is not the magic bullet to get us out of our situation," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.
Beyond that, Republican officials said that candidates in culturally conservative parts of the country would try to fight efforts to allow stem cell research.
"That is an issue of great importance that has moved to the side, but I think will come back strong in the next few months," said Colin Hanna, founder of the conservative advocacy group Let Freedom Ring.
But some Republicans say they fear that the issue could help the Democrats, because polls show widespread public support for the research.
In Missouri, a proposed initiative would put the right to stem cell research in the state constitution. Senator Jim Talent, a Republican facing a tough challenge, has declined to take a position on the initiative and has also abandoned his support for a federal ban supported by many Senate Republicans; his Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, supports the Missouri initiative.
Other state initiatives this year could prove more effective in moving conservatives, analysts say, in particular efforts to limit the Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain, and to prevent the government's taking of private property, a hot issue with many conservatives.
Immigration is also a tempting target for Republican strategists because it is such an urgent concern. There is considerable support for the kind of tough bill passed by House Republicans.
"The grass-roots base of the conservative Republican Party is very keenly interested in securing our borders," said Morton Blackwell, the president of the Leadership Institute, a conservative grass-roots training organization. But the risks of using that issue, and alienating Hispanic voters, became clear in the last few weeks with the mass demonstrations of immigrants in American cities.
It seems telling that in conversations last week, many Republicans said they were looking not to their party but to the Democrats.
"Our ace in the hole may well eventually be some goofy idea pushed by the Democrats that makes people want to run," Graham said. "But if that doesn't happen, we are in trouble."
GOP Bid To Shore Up Conservative Support With New Effort To Pass Anti-Gay Amendment
by The Associated Press
April 16, 2006 - 11:00 am ET
(Washington) Protection of marriage amendment? Check. Anti-flag burning legislation? Check. New abortion limits? Check.
Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority.
In a year where an unpopular war in Iraq has helped drive President Bush's approval ratings below 40%, core conservatives whose turnout in November is vital to the party want assurances that they are not being taken for granted.
"It seems like for only six months, every two years — right around election time — that we're even noticed," said Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council.
"Some of these better pass," he added. "You notice when it's just lip service being paid."
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer agreed that the effort matters.
"If they get to these things this summer, which we expect that they will, that will go a long way toward energizing the values voters at the base of the Republican Party," said Bauer, head of Americans United to Preserve Marriage.
GOP leaders long have known that the war and merely riding the coattails of a second-term president could disillusion their base.
If there was any doubt, conservatives issued a concise warning last month. Four groups representing evangelical Christians said an internal survey found that 63% of "values voters" — identified as evangelical Christians whose priorities include outlawing abortion and banning same-sex marriage — "feel Congress has not kept its promises to act on a pro-family agenda."
The Family Research Council, which headlined the survey, also announced it would hold a "Values Voter Summit" in September to "raise the bar of achievement for this Congress." At the top of the agenda could be a call for new leadership in Congress if those in power have not acted on social conservatives' issues.
Some leaders read the warning signs early.
The House has approved an amendment to the Constitution to outlaw flag burning and passed a bill to crack down on the practice of minors' crossing state lines for abortions to evade legal limits in their own states
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and a possible presidential candidate in 2008, announced early this year that the Senate would consider those and the anti-gay marriage amendment that has failed in both chambers despite Bush's endorsement.
"When America's values are under attack, we need to act," Frist told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
Those were sweet words to Bauer's ears.
"The marriage amendment is in a class by itself because of what's at stake," Bauer said.
House Republican officials close to the scheduling process said the marriage amendment is headed for a House vote in July.
Sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also a possible presidential candidate, the measure would have the Constitution define marriage as the union between a man and a woman — in effect rescinding a 2004 Massachusetts law that made gay marriage legal.
Sending the proposed amendment to the states for ratification may not win the two-thirds majority required in the House and Senate. But committing to a vote in June is a gesture of good faith that would resonate with social conservatives, Bauer said.
The amendment banning flag desecration, a perennial vote and favorite of some conservatives, would need the same majority for ratification. Frist has promised to bring it up in June. The amendment was ratified by the House last year but was not brought to a vote in the Senate after 35 senators declared their opposition.
The bill to curb abortions among minors has long been on Frist's list of legislative priorities. Legislation imposing penalties on anyone who helps a minor cross state lines to obtain an abortion won easy passage in House last year.
Frist has promised to bring a similar bill to the Senate floor before the year is out.
Not on the Senate's schedule, however, is a bill allowing taxpayers to underwrite human embryonic stem cell research, a science still in its infancy that could lead to cures for many diseases.
Social conservatives, including Bush, say that the process by which the cells are derived is morally akin to abortion because the fertilized egg is destroyed.
Frist, a surgeon who enraged many in the GOP base last year when he supported a House-passed bill to fund the process, had planned a Senate vote on the matter by Easter. Congress adjourned for the holiday this month without such a debate anywhere on the Senate's calendar.