Social conservatives are pushing back against the idea that their priorities are on the back burner. Strong families need a strong economy and vice versa, they say. “There’s so much overlap between social conservatives and the economic voters that you almost can’t parse that out,” says Bruce Hausknecht, a legal expert at CitizenLink. “Social conservatives are huge supporters of limited government, keeping the budget within your means, and pay as you go.”
A recent tour of the Focus on the Family complex included the studio that produces a daily radio broadcast reaching more than 1.3 million people in North America; plaques marking the 2010 Super Bowl commercial in which football star Tim Tebow and his mother celebrated her decision not to have an abortion; wall-covering collages of family photographs submitted by supporters; and a bullet hole from 1996, when an armed gunman took four people hostage.
Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, a devout and staunchly antiabortion Catholic whose addition to the ticket heartened religious conservatives, recently taped a radio broadcast with Jim Daly, Focus on the Family’s president. One major conversation topic: Obama’s health care overhaul, which requires employers to include birth control in their health insurance plans. Catholic institutions fervently objected. Obama’s compromise—that religious groups could put the burden on the insurer instead—has not resolved the issue for many and could cost him votes. “Religious rights. That’s our first freedom,” Ryan said in the interview. “And government needs to respect these rights.”
To conduct the national voter-registration drive, Focus on the Family joined with the Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, National Right to Life, the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund, and the American Principles Project. The groups matched their lists of people who had contacted them at least once with voter-registration lists in 21 states and found 5 million unregistered Christians. “That was quite a surprise to us,” Earll says. “We had assumed that the people on our mailings lists were all registered. What we learned is that we can’t take for granted that people take action on behalf of their convictions.”
The Faith and Freedom Coalition is also undertaking an unprecedented outreach effort. Founder Ralph Reed said that its voter database is five times larger than the list of social conservatives used by the Bush campaign in 2004, thanks to advances in technology and micro-targeting. Its multimillion-dollar effort aims to reach voters at least seven times: through three mailings, three phones calls, and one e-mail or cell-phone text message. The group sent out texts to Ohio voters on Oct. 2, for example, reminding them about the start of early voting. “There’s never been anything like it,” says Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, who added that grassroots networking is more important than ever at a time when voters are oversaturated by campaign ads. “If you live in a battleground state, you can’t even turn on TV anymore. The greatest premium is on who can knock on the most doors, call the most people, and turn out the most votes.”
Reed says he expects Romney to do better than the 68 percent of the evangelical vote that Bush got in 2000 but not as well as the 78 percent he captured in 2004. “Nobody can predict what will happen, but I think it’s different when you’re talking about an incumbent president with a record on stem-cell research, marriage, and judicial appointments,” Reed says, referring to Bush. He expects the massive outreach effort to drive between 3 million and 5 million more evangelical voters to the polls than in 2008, expanding their share of the electorate by 1 or 2 percentage points, although that will depend on how many other types of voters cast ballots.
To win Colorado’s nine electoral votes, Romney must dominate El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs, to offset anticipated losses in more-Democratic areas such as Denver and Pueblo. In the last three weeks of September, Colorado Springs ranked 11th nationally in presidential advertising (it has fallen somewhat since then), according to the Wesleyan Media Project. Denver is the top media market.
A robust campaign behind a “personhood amendment” would have helped drive Colorado Republicans to the polls, but backers of the initiative aimed at protecting fetuses didn’t collect enough signatures to get it on the ballot. Only one state, Minnesota, is slated to have a constitutional amendment on the November ballot banning same-sex marriage, compared with 13 states in 2004 and three in 2008, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
In North Carolina, which in May became the latest state and the last in the South to ban gay marriage, the constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly, except in the state’s biggest and more moderate metropolitan areas, including the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Asheville, and Greensboro. Romney will need to tamp down the president’s expected margins of victory in those areas to carry the state that Obama won by fewer than 15,000 votes in 2008. In Iowa, Romney’s success depends on strong turnout in the western, most conservative parts of the state, where Santorum ran well in the January caucus.
Social conservatives are “one of the wild cards of the election,” Brabender says. “Romney doesn’t have to worry about courting the votes of social conservatives, but there is a difference between whether they will vote for him and putting a bumper sticker on their car,” he says. “It’s a question of intensity.”
This article appeared in print as "God Willing."