Religious Activists Spar over Voters Guides; Churches Weigh Biennial Political roles.(PAGE ONE)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 2, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Religious Activists Spar over Voters Guides; Churches Weigh Biennial Political roles.(PAGE ONE)


Byline: Larry Witham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Religious activists in the national election are relying on time-tested techniques, including galvanizing black church or evangelical swing voters and trying to expel pamphleteers from sanctuaries on Sunday.

The evangelical-based Christian Coalition has distributed its national voters guides this year by Internet, and the rival Interfaith Alliance is campaigning to urge churches not to circulate them.

The Catholic vote is expected to reflect the national averages and hinge on a mood of "disappointments" with the economy and scandal in the church, while the urban black vote is seen as key in certain gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

"A number of our chapters are downloading the vote guides and distributing them," said Ron Torossian, media director for the Christian Coalition.

Though he would not say which races conservative religious activists are targeting, he said, "Our internal polls are looking good, and we feel we can sweep the Congress."

Republicans are looking for a net gain of at least one seat to take control of the Senate and to maintain their seven-seat advantage in the House.

The Interfaith Alliance, founded to "counter the religious right," is targeting "voter education" with press conferences and rallies in states where the races are hot: Minnesota, Missouri, Georgia and Louisiana.

"We warn religious leaders and houses of worship against offering even an implicit religious endorsement for the partisanship self-evident in these voter guides," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the alliance.

The alliance has sent that message in 35,000 letters to houses of worship nationwide but in particular to the states with close contests, which include Colorado and Iowa.

The Christian Coalition voter guides record the stances of candidates in the races on campaign finance, human cloning, same-sex partner benefits, school vouchers, taxes, abortion and funding for faith-based initiatives.

The guides are based on voting records from Congressional Quarterly and questionnaires sent to candidates.

But more liberal activists may be working just as hard to contact a voter base affiliated with churches or synagogues.

"My guess is that the progressive forces are working very actively, a lot more than we might expect," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

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