Midterm: The Elections of 1994 in Context

By Philip A. Klinkner | Go to book overview

7
The Politics of Pragmatism: The Christian Right and the 1994 Elections

J. CHRISTOPHER SOPER

The Republican party's stunning gains in the 1994 midterm elections left analysts wondering who or what to credit for the party's success. Chief among the groups claiming and receiving responsibility for the election results has been the Christian right. According to a national exit poll, white evangelical or born-again Christians represented 20 percent of the votes cast on election day, and they voted by a margin of over three to one for Republican House candidates. The Christian Coalition, the largest organization in the Christian right with an estimated 1.5 million members, endorsed 60 of the 73 House Republican freshman in 1994. Several candidates closely identified with the Christian right including Senators Michael DeWine ( Ohio), Rick Santorum ( Pennsylvania), and John Ashcroft ( Missouri); Representatives Ron Lewis ( Kentucky), Steve Largent, and J. C. Watts ( Oklahoma); and Governor David Beasley ( South Caraliona) won office. In addition, evangelical Christians were active in Republican party politics in the previous two years and provided the GOP with key resources for electoral success: grassroots organizations, financing, and well-organized and devoted activists. It is hard to dismiss Ralph Reed, Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, who contends that conservative Christian voters were instrumental in over half of the Republicans 52-seat gain in the House and their 9-seat pickup in the Senate.

Despite the dear signs of the influence of the Christian right, in 1994, there were also some setbacks for the movement. Republican party leaders did not include the moral issues of abortion, gay rights, and school prayer in their ten-point Contract with America; Oliver North, who openly identified with the Christian right, was defeated in Virginia's Senate race, as were anti-gay rights initiatives in Oregon and Idaho; and Republicans ignored social issues in their first 100 days in office.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the influence of the Christian right in the 1994 midterm elections. I argue that the Christian right was an important faction within the Republican party in 1994 and a growing force in American politics. The election, however, also demonstrated the limits to the movement's political power. The family and moral issues around which conservative Christians have

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