(CNSNews.com) – Social conservative voters are more concerned about a presidential candidate’s policies going forward than they are with the candidate’s past views, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
The FRC is hosting the Values Voters Summit in Washington Oct. 7-9, featuring nearly every GOP presidential candidate and concluding with a straw poll.
Perkins, speaking at the National Press Club Tuesday, talked about what social conservatives want in a presidential candidate. He described the Republican field as wipe open, despite the mainstream media’s focus on Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Perkins said that Romney – who dropped his support for abortion, gay rights, socialized health care and a host of other liberal positions once he entered the 2008 GOP nomination battle to take more conservative stances – has not made the same play for social voters as he did in the last election cycle.
“The one thing about Mitt Romney’s campaign this time – his candidacy – he is not speaking as strongly to the social issues as he did four years ago,” Perkins told CNSNews.com. “He was working very hard to capture the social conservative voters. I for one was comfortable with his positions and explanations as to why he had changed.
“Again, it’s more the positions you’re advocating going forward and a credible explanation as to why those have changed. He has not given a lot of attention in this cycle, which does cause some to say: Is that commitment to those issues genuine and solid?” Perkins asked.
CNSNews.com asked if social conservative voters might hold Perry’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 Republican primary against him. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, was pro-abortion and backed legally recognized domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
“There’s no purity pledge by social conservative voters that says if you ever messed up, you can’t be a contender for my vote and my support,” Perkins told CNSNews.com. “But I do think there is a fidelity pledge to the core conservative values.
“So what happened last year, two years ago, four years ago, is less of an issue than the positions that you are advocating for now. So I do think it does cause people to take pause – why did you support Giuliani? I think he has answered that question,” he added.
“What he said is that because of the judges he [Giuliani] would have appointed would have been strict constructionist, which for most social conservatives gets us where we want to be,” Perkins continued. “We just want courts to be out of dictating social policy or any type of policy.”
Perkins pointed out that another candidate could emerge, recalling that at this time in 2007, Giuliani was leading in all the polls of Republican presidential candidates.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has not entered the presidential race and insists he will not despite widespread rumors, would have difficulty gaining social conservative voters, Perkins said. Perkins said the New Jersey governor “has made questionable appointments” to state offices and “has backing from individuals who are clearly on the other side of social issues.”
The candidates on the ballot for the straw poll are Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Perry, Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
All of these candidates are scheduled to speak at the Values Voters Summit except for Huntsman. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a libertarian Republican, is not part of the event nor on the ballot. Perkins said the threshold for being on the ballot is having 3 percent support in at least one national poll.
There is also balloting for a vice president, with 20 candidates including all of the presidential candidates as well as Christie, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
With regard to Paul, a libertarian Republican candidate, Perkins recalled that when Paul spoke in Iowa before the August straw poll there, “he talked about the importance of liberty, but then used the balance of his speech to talk about the sanctity of life.”
“We’ll never shrink the size and scope of the federal government until we strengthen the family,” Perkins told CNSNews.com. He added, “As Republican candidates understand primary voters, even libertarians will be talking about the essential nature of these core conservative values.”