GOP Candidates Seek Support of Christian Activists
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Republican presidential candidates courted conservative Christian activists on Friday, with Pat Buchanan portraying the upcoming election as ``a cultural war for the soul of America.″
Buchanan brought the audience at a convention of several thousand conservative Christians repeatedly to its feet in applause with his slashing attacks on President Clinton and some of his own GOP rivals.
Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar took a more subdued approach, telling the audience that God pays attention to everything that is uttered and, he said, ``It is important when we speak that we tell the truth.″
``In the worst instance, we become a tower of babble in which people are speaking gibberish,″ Lugar said. ``This is part of our political predicament in this country.″
Both Buchanan and Lugar, the first two presidential candidates to address the forum, emphasized their opposition to abortion. Lugar also said he had consistently supported the procedure ``to save the life of the mother or in case of incest or rape. People understand that is my position. That will be my vote.″
Lugar saluted the religious right as ``a vital force for good in our body politic.″
Buchanan was far bolder in his approach.
Without naming them, he took a shot at absent GOP front-runner Bob Dole and other rivals who skipped the event.
``If you find leaders who will not discuss that cultural battle, who will not discuss that cultural war, and will not fight that cultural war, do not make them your leaders,″ Buchanan told the convention.
Later, Buchanan derided some of his GOP competitors, saying, ``We don’t need any of the summertime soldiers of the cultural war sitting in the wings.″
The conference, called a ``National Affairs Briefing,″ was organized by a coalition of Christian conservative and anti-abortion groups. All 1996 presidential candidates were invited, but Clinton, Dole, and even former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander passed it up.
Publisher Steve Forbes, who is moving up in the polls, was listed on the schedule for a Saturday appearance but was not expected to come.
Both Forbes and Alexander have views on abortion that do not square with the majority of those at the conference. Forbes has said he wants ``abortion to disappear″ but he does not favor doing it by constitutional amendment. Alexander says he opposes abortion, but does not believe the federal government has a role.
Dole, who has actively courted Christian conservatives, has said he is staunchly anti-abortion.
Aides to both Alexander and Dole said their campaign schedules in Iowa and New Hampshire did not permit them to appear.
Also addressing Friday’s session were GOP contender Alan Keyes and Libertarian candidate Harold Browne. Keyes, a conservative talk show host and anti-abortion activist, asserted, ``The number one priority we’ve got to address is that practical issue of family disintegration″ and asked, ``Do you agree with that?″ A thunderous ``yes″ came back to him.
Buchanan found a receptive audience, bringing it to its feet time after time as he vowed to dismantle the Education Department, fire bureaucrats ``in sandals and beads,″ end ``tax dollars funding filthy and blasphemous art″ and name anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court.
He denounced _ again not by name _ both Dole and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm for voting to confirm Clinton’s nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the Supreme Court. He called her stridently pro-abortion rights.
``We’ve got to turn my friends in the Republican party around,″ Buchanan said.
``Our nation is calling us. We have got to fight and win this cultural war for the soul of America,″ he told his fellow conservatives.
Two other GOP candidates, Gramm and Rep. Bob Dornan of California, are to address the forum on Sunday.
Howard Phillips, director of the Conservative Caucus, urged close scrutiny of the presidential contenders. ``Let’s take these politicians off the pedestal and recognize that our elected officials are supposed to be our servants and not our masters,″ he said.
Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee, asserted that ``abortion-on-demand is the core problem for the body politic.″ Without an anti-abortion president, ``the cancer will continue,″ she suggested.
Former Memphis Mayor Richard Hackett, now an executive with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital here, urged perspective, saying that ``the cancer of hatred″ could also be fatal to the country.
``Are we part of the cure or part of the cancer?″ he asked.