Prayers in the Precincts: The Christian Right in the 1998 Elections

Prayers in the Precincts: The Christian Right in the 1998 Elections

Prayers in the Precincts: The Christian Right in the 1998 Elections

Prayers in the Precincts: The Christian Right in the 1998 Elections


In the wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, the Christian Right expected major victories in the 1998 elections. Instead, many of its allies lost close contests, and the movement was seen as a liability in some high-profile campaigns. In the only in-depth study of the Christian Right's role in these races, leading scholars analyze the role of the movement in fourteen key states, from Maine to California, and address speculations that the movement is fading from the American political scene.The book focuses on elections on the state and local levels, where the Christian Right is most influential, and it describes the movement's niche in some detail. Although each campaign described in the book had its unique characteristics, the editors have drawn some broad conclusions about the 1998 elections. While the movement was weak in the areas of candidate recruitment and fundraising, they say, the outcome may have also been related to external factors, including a broader turnout of typically Democratic constituencies and the country's boredom with the scandal that conservatives had made the centerpiece of their campaign. Despite the setbacks of 1998, the contributors argue, the Christian Right continues to have an enormous influence on the political dialogue of the country.Written from an unbiased, nonpartisan perspective, this volume sheds light on a topic that is too frequently mired in controversy.


John C. Green

The 1998 election can only be described as a defeat for the Christian Right. Several of its most prominent supporters were retired by the voters, many allies lost close contests, and the movement was a liability in some high-profile races. These losses were especially galling to movement activists because major gains were widely anticipated: the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was expected to mobilize conservative religious voters and the mid-term election was supposed to be a good one for the Republicans. However, the 1998 election was not a debacle for the Christian Right. Many of its key supporters were reelected, some new allies gained office, and the movement was an asset in some important races (Green et al. 1998).

Of course, 1998 was an unusual election by any reckoning. The congressional results were historic, with the Democratic net gain of five seats representing the first mid-term advance by the party in the White House since 1934. However, the Republicans actually won the congressional election, posting the highest popular vote margin since 1946. In fact, incumbency dominated the election, with a near-record number of officeholders facing little or no opposition. The campaign was waged against the backdrop of prosperity at home, (mostly) peace abroad, and an acrimonious debate over the impeachment of the president, all of which contributed to the unusual results (Jacobson 1999).

A seismic metaphor is helpful in putting this odd election in perspective. If the 1994 election is thought of as an “earthquake” that transformed the political landscape, then 1998 was an “aftershock” that settled the disturbed landforms. In 1994, the Republicans won a historic . . .

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