(CNSNews.com) - Under the wary eye of conservatives and many of the party faithful, some 17 openly homosexual delegates will attend this year's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, up from three openly homosexual delegates in 1996.
A high profile of groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual advocacy organization with 45 chapters and 10,000 members nationwide, is causing many to ask if the inclusion of groups at odds with traditional family values will cause conservatives to stay at home on election day or throw their support behind Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan.
If the Republican Party wants to win in November, "it needs to articulate its core traditional principles," said Charles Donovan, CEO of the Family Research Council.
"Of six states that have had votes on gay-related issues in the last four or five years, including California, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, Alaska and Hawaii, and even Washington - in none of those states has the gay rights agenda prevailed. And none of those states is a Republican state," Donovan said.
The small number of congressional Republicans that come from these states usually are moderates, Donovan said, and voters at the grassroots level "are not gay bashers, they're not interested in regulating people's lifestyles directly, but they do want a public policy agenda that embraces traditional institutions - marriage and family life, and groups like the Boy Scouts."
"The Republican Party has resisted that agenda until recent years. It could become a major negative story for the GOP because that's not where the mainstream is in America," Donovan said.
Conservatives also are concerned about published reports, which have not been denied, that Mary Cheney, the 31-year-old daughter of vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, is homosexual.
The homosexual vote can be crucial to the Republicans in November, said Kevin Ivers, communications director with the Log Cabin Republicans.
Since 1992, about 33 percent of the homosexual vote has gone to the Republican Party in every election, according to pollsters. In 1998, 1 million homosexuals nationwide voted Republican. Homosexuals make up 5 percent of the total vote, about the same as the Hispanic voting bloc, which also voted 35 percent Republican.
"We're about the same size and about as bipartisan as the Hispanic vote nationwide," Ivers said.
In certain battleground states in the Midwest - Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania - the homosexual vote can swing the election, Ivers said.
"We're seeing trends in other states, like New Jersey, Washington and Oregon, that are going to be battleground states in this election where the gay vote can make a significant difference," he said.
A campaign that reaches out to all people brings in voters who tend to be undecided up until the final weeks of the campaign, Ivers added, and swing voters who are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans in party registration decide close elections.
If Republican-leaning swing voters wind up not voting Republican, "in most cases, it's because they feel the party is too beholden to the far right.
"When a conservative candidate reaches out to the gay community and maintains a positive, uplifting conservative message and doesn't have a bifurcated message on inclusion - there's no 'but' in the equation - then those very important swing voters are much more receptive to those candidates. They see a conservative Republican who reaches out to gay Americans as somebody they can trust," Ivers said.