Evangelical Groups Plan Aggressive Drive for Nominee

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 4, 2005

Employing essentially the same game plan they used to win referendums against same-sex marriage in 11 states last November, evangelical Christian groups said they plan to run a multimillion-dollar church-centered campaign to rouse support for a thoroughly conservative successor to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Conservative religious leaders said the campaign will target 20,000 pastors and congregations using Christian talk radio, satellite television broadcasts, direct-mail advertising and aggressive grass-roots organizing.

"This is the moment that social conservatives have been awaiting for more than a decade -- a real chance to change the philosophical balance of the Supreme Court" and reverse the direction of its rulings on abortion, school prayer, sodomy and religious displays on public property, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

A year ago, Perkins predicted that petition drives for state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage would have an enduring political impact because they would forge local Christian activists across the nation into "hard-wired" networks with names, addresses and telephone numbers of supporters.

That is exactly what happened, he said in an interview Saturday.

"I've heard people say the fiscal conservatives, the business interests, are hoping the social conservatives will be quiet this time. If we're quiet, they won't be successful, because we're the ones who can gear up people around the country. The engine has been idling since the election, and all we have to do is rev it up again," he said.

The revving began within hours of O'Connor's surprise resignation Friday morning, when about 50 members of the Arlington Group, a coalition of evangelical activists that first coalesced against same-sex marriage, held a conference call to discuss strategy for the judicial nomination battle.

Unlike in the group's weekly teleconferences during last year's presidential campaign, however, there was no one from the White House on the line, several participants said.

Connie Mackey, the Family Research Council's vice president for government affairs, said that was because "there is no need to coordinate with the White House at this stage," before President Bush names his choice to succeed O'Connor.

But it was also because the initial target of pressure from the Christian groups is, in fact, the White House: They want to hold Bush to his campaign promise to nominate someone like Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Publicly, they expressed no doubt that Bush would do so.

"I've known this president since 1988, and it's been my experience you don't need to remind him of the promises he's made," said the Rev. Richard Land, head of the ethics and public policy commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

At the same time, they made it clear that they would not automatically throw their weight behind anyone the president names. Asked, for example, whether the Family Research Council would support Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for a seat on the high court, Perkins replied acidly: "Our position on Attorney General Gonzales is, he holds great promise as an attorney general."

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