The Christian Coalition is not on the presidential ballot here, but Saturday's primary will test how far the religious conservative movement has moved from an insurgency within the GOP to become a pragmatic ally of the Republican establishment.

No one doubts the power of the Christian right within the GOP -- it has already powered the candidacy of Patrick J. Buchanan. The issue now is whether religious conservatives will agree with the strategy of moderation and accommodation, designed in large part by Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, that would help Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).

"Ralph Reed has a lot riding on this," said John Green, a University of Akron political scientist who has specialized in the study of the religious right. "Ralph and other pragmatists have been arguing since 1990 that the movement has to integrate into the Republican Party, and up until this year, they have been winning that argument. South Carolina is a model for the Ralph Reed school of pragmatism, integrating religious conservatives into the GOP more fully than any other state."

Reed has not publicly endorsed any presidential candidate. He has, however, been a leading advocate of joining forces with Republican Party leaders, a strategy that has resulted here in a substantial percentage of local Christian Coalition leaders endorsing Dole's bid for the presidency.

"Religious conservatives continue to be integrated into the mainstream as a vibrant force no matter what the outcome of the primary process," Reed said. "This is a broad, historic phenomena that . . . is irreversible."

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, argued that Reed has lost control of the movement to mobilize Christian conservatives. "Pat Buchanan has now taken over a movement that {television evangelist} Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed spent eight years building up. Ralph's strategy is at risk."

Kristol argued that "Ralph Reed thinks the way to win the culture war over the long term is to damp down the enthusiasm of some of his followers and lead a long march through the institutions. Pat Buchanan wants to lead a fixed bayonet charge on the elites right now. It is a very different political strategy and implies a different agenda."

While a number of Republicans and conservatives see Reed as an undeclared ally of Dole, Reed said he made an "explicit, conscious decision" not to endorse, "based on recognition of the failure of organized labor" to produce solid results in the general election when it endorsed former vice president Walter F. Mondale (D) in 1984.

Here in South Carolina, 40 to 50 percent of the Republicans voting in the primary are expected to be religious conservatives, overwhelmingly white, evangelical and fundamentalist voters who hold firmly conservative views on such issues as abortion, gay rights and the maintenance of the traditional two-parent family.

The movement first began to coalesce in the South when the IRS under President Jimmy Carter sought in 1978 to challenge the tax exempt status of many church schools organized in areas where the public schools faced court-ordered racial integration.

One of the most striking developments in the current Republican primary contest is the willingness of largely Protestant, evangelical voters to support Buchanan, who is Catholic. Exit polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and Arizona all show Buchanan winning strong pluralities or absolute majorities among voters who describe themselves as members of the religious right, as "very conservative" and as supporters of the antiabortion plank in the GOP platform.

Jim Guth, a political scientist at Furman University in Greenville, noted that surveys of Pentecostal churchgoers showed as recently as 1992 substantial wariness toward the Catholic Church. Some 60 percent of Pentecostals said they felt "far away" or "very far away" from the Catholic Church; only 9 percent said they were "close" or very close.

Citing the support of many county chairmen of the South Carolina Christian Coalition, such Dole backers as Gov. David M. Beasley and former governor Carroll A. Campbell Jr. are banking on winning enough of the Christian right to combine with a plurality of other voters to win overall.

Roberta Combs, chairman of the South Carolina Christian Coalition, is publicly neutral, but Dole supporters openly boast of the help she is providing and note that her husband has endorsed the Kansas senator.

"We've got a lot of support there. In our internal polling, we win the right-to-life vote, we win the Christian Coalition vote," said Warren Tompkins, Dole's southern strategist.

He said the only weakness is what he called the "Bob Jones strain of religious conservatives," referring to the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville.

Interviews with voters at a Thursday night Christian Coalition "God and Country" rally showed overwhelming support for Buchanan, and very little for Dole. The support for Dole among South Carolina Christian Coalition leaders has provoked some resentment.

Robert Taylor, dean of the school of business administration at Bob Jones University, said some Christian Coalition leaders have adopted a relationship with GOP leaders of "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine." He warned that some of these leaders "might be in jeopardy, might find they are no longer leaders."

Colleen Parro, director of the Republican National Coalition for Life and a Buchanan supporter, argued that Reed "must have thought that Dole was going to come out on top, and now it looks like it may not happen. . . . In a way, it can be compared to the unions. The rank and file don't always fall in line with the bosses."

Reed's pragmatic approach has stressed a willingness to support in past elections such politicians as Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), who are not adamantly opposed to abortion, in return for a seat at the policy-making table. Reed won, for example, House and Senate leadership support for the coalition's "Contract With the American Family."

Reed said that a recent national survey of Christian Coalition members showed that 31 percent supported Buchanan, 21 percent backed Dole, 6 percent Alan Keyes, 3 percent publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes and 2 percent former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander.

He stressed the finding that "70 percent are supporting someone other than Pat Buchanan, or they are undecided," noting that most Christian Coalition members, by the end of February when the poll was taken, "know where he {Buchanan} stands."