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Christian Coalition Leader Sees Boost

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By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 1998; Page A19

The White House sex scandal will produce an outpouring of conservative religious voters in the November elections, Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition, said yesterday on the eve of the organization's annual Road to Victory conference.

Through his actions, President Clinton "has created a referendum on the issue of values in this country going into the fall, and that is the issue that drives our people," Tate said in an interview. He added, however, that he takes "no joy" in the disclosures of Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

"To the extent the debate is on those issues, it will motivate our base, because that issue is the reason they get involved in politics," Tate said. "They believe character matters, and values matter. So if those issues are on the forefront, social and religious conservatives will turn out in record numbers."

In this atmosphere, candidates are going to be asked with increasing regularity questions about their sexual history and especially whether they have been faithful to their spouses, Tate said. In the past, voters accepted the notion that most candidates for office were persons of strong moral character, Tate said, but Clinton "changed that . . . and a lot of voters are looking to raise that bar."

Tate recommended that when candidates are asked "the question, they should give a truthful answer." In the past, he said, some politicians would say "that is a personal question and I'm not going to answer that," just as they might refuse to discuss personal financial matters. "I think Clinton's remarks have changed that," Tate said.

If Tate's assessment that the Clinton scandal will be a boost to the religious right is accurate -- and a number of partisans on both sides of the aisle agree with him -- it could not have come at a better time for the coalition.

The coalition, founded by Pat Robertson, has been embattled in a two-year struggle with the Federal Election Commission, which has accused the organization of illegally contributing $1.4 million to Republican campaigns. The coalition's application for tax-exempt status remains in a nine-year-long limbo at the IRS.

In March, Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network acknowledged that it paid a "significant" penalty to the IRS and retroactively lost tax-exempt status in 1986 and 1987.

In an effort to minimize the impact of the coalition in the election, two of the organization's harshest critics, People for the American Way and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, held news conferences yesterday to challenge the legality of the coalition's practices.

People for the American Way provided reporters with documents in the FEC case showing that Ralph Reed, the coalition's former executive director, and Robertson, its chairman, offered support to the 1992 presidential campaign of George Bush and the 1994 Senate bid of Oliver L. North in Virginia.

In one document, Robertson sent Robert Teeter, Bush campaign chairman, a memo on Christian Coalition letterhead with a "list of persons I would like to see as Bush campaign co-chairmen," a request that was largely fulfilled. In another, Reed warns Teeter that if Bush wins only 50 percent to 60 percent of the evangelical vote, "he is gone." Reed said, "We are ready and willing to help shore up this base."

Americans United said it will step up efforts to send pastors letters warning them that they endanger their charitable tax status if they distribute Christian Coalition voter guides, which, Americans United said, are partisan in their goals.

Tate contended his critics are using "scare tactics and thuggery to intimidate pastors." "The information we present, they [the brochures] don't state our position, they state the candidates' positions," he said.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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