Values Voters Cautious on Third Party Possibility

By Matt Purple | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Republican presidential candidates gathered at the Washington Hilton over the weekend to tout their credentials on social issues before an audience of Christian conservatives.

But some attendees at the Values Voters Summit agreed with Christian conservative leader Dr. James Dobson, who recently argued in a New York Times op-ed that if both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are pro-abortion, Christian conservatives may need to support a third party candidate.

"I would [support a third party], but just pray that doesn't happen," Scott Lensmie, one of the conference attendees, told Cybercast News Service. "If we divide our vote, it would likely put a Democrat in the White House."

Under particular scrutiny was former New York City mayor and the current GOP front-runner Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani, who is running on security issues, is openly pro-abortion and pro-homosexual marriage. Although Giuliani's speech received a standing ovation, a raft of pamphlets denouncing the mayor for his abortion views was circulated around the hotel.

Some, like Terry Colafrancesco, were resolute in their opposition to the former mayor.

"No question. Christians would have to support a third party" if Giuliani receives the GOP nomination, he told Cybercast News Service. "It doesn't matter [if it splits the Republican vote]. God's got to step in for us. We have to act on principle because God is what matters in the end."

Attendees interviewed by Cybercast News Service generally were undecided on the idea of a third-party candidate and were instead looking to find a suitable Republican.

Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, an evangelical group founded by Dobson, said the purpose of the event was to give social conservatives an opportunity to hear the would-be candidates and decide for themselves.

"What we think about the candidates isn't that important," Schneeberger told Cybercast News Service when asked about the possibility of backing a third party. "We wanted to put the voters and the candidates together without filters."

Other pro-life activists, as well as representatives from the Log Cabin Republicans, Huckabee for President, and Thompson for President, refused to comment on the possibility of a third party this early in the race.

Some were confident that the GOP would nominate the right man in the end. Jeremy Dys, a Christian activist from West Virginia, expressed optimism.

"If you are the social values candidate, you need to prove that," he told Cybercast News Service. "But that position will win in the primary every time."

The Value Voters Summit attracted thousands of activists and many well-known political pundits and observers. The event was sponsored by the Family Research Council, which Dobson helped to found in 1983.

The candidates spoke on a variety of social issues. Yet they placed much emphasis on their commitment to end the Supreme Court's legalization of abortion.

"As president of the United States, no legislation will pass my desk that funds or supports [abortion] legislation without my veto," promised former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

"I have been pro-life my entire life," declared Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). "I believe I'm the only major candidate in either party who can say that."

McCain told several stories from his five-and-a-half year ordeal as a POW in a Vietnamese prison, which he said strengthened his belief in God and his love of America.

He also expressed support for the war on terror, couching it in moral terms. "We are called to fight" Islamic extremists "not just by our economic security but to preserve values that we consider universal," he said.

Also speaking at the conference was Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who announced several hours later that he was exiting the presidential race. Brownback, a favorite among pro-life conservatives, discussed America's religious heritage and the role it played in abolitionism, the civil rights movement and other landmark movements.

"I don't see how you can understand America without faith," said Brownback. "We are great because we are good," he said. "And if we ever lose our fundamental goodness, we will lose our greatness."

All 16 presidential candidates were invited to speak at the summit, though only the eight Republican contenders agreed to attend.

The candidates garnered applause ranging from respectful to standing ovations. Even Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), who has taken a hard line against the war in Iraq, was received well and interrupted many times by cheering attendees.

Paul, an obstetrician, received the most applause when he denounced abortion and told a story of walking in on an abortion as a medical student when doctors removed a baby from its womb and left it crying to die on a table. "Our goal should be to repeal Roe v. Wade," he said.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, whose speech covered the entire spectrum of socially conservative positions, won the convention's straw poll, but only barely. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee finished a strong second, only 30 votes behind Romney.

Despite leading the Republican contenders nationally, Giuliani placed eighth in the poll, beating only McCain, who was dead last.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Please support CNSNews today! (a 501c3 non-profit production of the Media Research Center)