A War on the Home Front?
JAMES M. PENNING AND CORWIN E. SMIDT
FOLLOWING THE 2004 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, MANY ANALYSTS concluded that conservative Christians associated with the Christian Right contributed in important ways to President Bush's reelection (Finley 2004; Riley 2004; Hitt 2004).1 Exit polls revealed that about one-fifth of American voters selected “moral values” as the most important issue in casting their vote—outpacing even the war in Iraq and the economy2 Among these “moral values” voters, Bush won an overwhelming 80 percent.
Christian Right leaders were quick to claim credit for the electoral success of Bush and the Republican Party. Roberta Coombs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, asserted that “Christian evangelicals made the major difference once again this year” (AFP 2004). Other analysts, however, issued a word of caution, attributing Bush's success to a variety of factors. Political scientist James Q. Wilson suggested that “one can make a good case that the economy or the war in Iraq were just as important as morality” in deciding the 2004 presidential election (Wilson 2004). Still others argued Bush's victory reflected weakness in his opponent, John Kerry. Detroit Free Press columnist Dawson Bell, for example, argued that Kerry was “too lame, too liberal, [and] too unlovable” (Bell 2004b).
In any case, the 2004 Bush campaign clearly made every effort to mobilize conservative Christian voters. The GOP worked diligently “to stay abreast of the Christian Right and consulted with the movement's leaders in weekly conference calls” (Cooperman and Edsall 2004). In addition, GOP operatives spent considerable effort at the grassroots level to mobilize pastors and congregants who were concerned about issues such as abortion, gay rights, gambling, and pornography (Riley 2004; Ostling 2004; O'Donnell 2004).