Karen Clifford of Sterling Park nodded in agreement today as a speaker at the Virginia Reublican Convention called for a constitutional amendment that would allow voluntary prayers in public schools.
Weighted down with a walkie-talkie and assorted buttons that identified her as a supporter of Guy O. Farley's candidacy for lieutenant governor, Clifford is a devout Mormon who "couldn't support a man who didn't believe in God."
She says she isn't sure if she should be considered a member of the Moral Majority, which by one count has more than 700 delegates -- most of them Farley supporters -- at this weekend's convention here, but she is "a member of the majority who are moral."
Whatever label is pinned on Clifford, she is an example of the influence members of the so-called Christian Right are having on Virginia politics this year.
Clifford, a 34-year-old mother of two, met Farley at the GOP national convention in Detroit last summer, and found him to have "the same appeal -- he communicates with people -- and high principles as Reagan," for whom she was Loudoun County coordinator.
Farely, a Warrenton lawyer who is locked in a three-way fight with State Sen. Herbert Bateman and Nathan Miller for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, said he is "not reluctant to be the candidate of the Moral Majority." But he added that "I never wanted people to vote for or against me on that basis. I want them to decide on the issues."
Clifford, who moved to Virginia three years ago, said one of her neighbors has told her stories about "the old Farely," who won't deny reports that as a Democratic member of the state legislature from Fairfax County in the 1960s he was regarded as something of a playboy.
"People change," said Clifford. "I know, because I have." Clifford said that she endured "a hard life" as a child in Portland, Ore., as a battered child of an alcoholic mother.
Before she moved to Virginia, Clifford lived in Minneapolis, where she was a foster mother and volunteer counseler to unwed mothers, while her husband earned his Ph.D. (He now is a scientific linguist with the Central Intelligence Agency.) In her Loudoun County neighborhood, "everyone talked politics" but less than half of the members of her church were even registered to vote, she discovered.
So Clifford began calling church members, urging them to register. "The next thing I knew I was running for the board of supervisors." She lost, but remained active in the Republican Party.
When she was introduced to Farley in Detroit, she was attracted to him "because of is principles, rather than his politics," a view that worries party regulars, who fear many like-minded Farley supporters may not stay active if he loses in the balloting here tomorrow.
But Farley and his aides complain that his Moral Majority connection has been exaggerated. John E. Alderson Jr., Farley's campaign manager, said today, "If there are 10 delegates out there for Farley who are members of the Moral Majority, I can't name them."
"We actively sought support from the fundamental Christian community, but it's not all the same. I'm a fundamental Christian, but I don't belong to the Moral Majority."
As if to prove that the Moral Majority is not a monolith, Alderson pointed to Harry Covert of Lynchburg, who is editor of Falwell's Moral Majority Report. Covert, a former newspaper reporter, was wearing a Bateman button.
Covert said that while the vast majority of Moral Majority delegates -- which he said numbered between 700 and 850 -- are supporting Farley, he is backing Bateman, an old friend of his. "Reverand Falwell has never said a word to me" about the campaign, Covert said.
Between trying to listen to the voices on her squeaky walkie-talkie, Clifford said that she considers herself a member of the "New Conservatives," rather than the "New Right," which she says could include "people who would go too far, to a dictatorship."