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  •   Religious Right Queries GOP Rivals

    By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, February 4, 1999; Page A4

    Religious and social conservatives, struggling to agree on a presidential candidate to back in the Republican primaries, yesterday interviewed six prospective competitors at a closed-door gathering at a Capitol Hill hotel and asked them to answer in writing questions on issues from abortion to Nativity scenes on government property.

    The one-hour interviews are part of a concerted, but so far frustrated, drive by one segment of the right wing of the GOP to agree on a single candidate. The goal of the ad hoc Committee to Restore American Values is to avoid divisions that have allowed the moderate, centrist wing of the party to select the nominee.

    Those interviewed at the Washington Court Hotel were Gary Bauer, former head of the Family Research Council; repeat candidate Alan Keyes; Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio); publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes; Sen. Robert Smith (R-N.H.); and, by phone from Indianapolis, former vice president Dan Quayle.

    Many of the nearly two dozen conservative leaders participating in the interviews yesterday had agreed to support Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) only to see Ashcroft, facing a tough reelection fight, unexpectedly back out.

    These conservatives have complained repeatedly that George Bush in 1992 and Robert J. Dole in 1996 failed to push social issues in their campaigns, leaving conservative voters dispirited and without much reason to go to the polls.

    Sources said that none of the candidates is a compelling choice, making it highly unlikely that a solid bloc of conservatives will be able to settle on one candidate. Some said Quayle and Forbes are most likely to get strong conservative backing.

    Among other prospects for the nomination, Texas Gov. George W. Bush declined to participate; Elizabeth Dole, according to her staff, was not invited; and former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander could not attend because of commitments in New Hampshire, according to an aide. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) could not be reached.

    The conservatives active in the meetings yesterday generally represent an older generation of the right: Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum, former senator Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.) and Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute. They were joined, according to sources, by Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition, and Mike Farris, a leader in the home schooling movement.

    The format called on the prospective candidates to speak for 15 minutes and then answer questions for 45 minutes. The candidates also were asked to respond in writing to 79 questions. These included, the Associated Press reported:

    • Would you support a removal of the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance?
    • What commitments relative to abortion would you require from appointees to the Supreme Court or lower federal judiciary positions?
    • Please itemize as many federal programs or agencies as possible that you believe are beyond the constitutional power of the federal government and which you would work to eliminate.
    • Do you normally call games of chance "gambling" or "gaming"?
    • Would you veto any bill which places any federal restrictions on private or home education?
    • Do you believe gun control reduces crime?

      © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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