Kemp Picks Up Backing Of Prominent Fundamentalists
WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) _ Wrapped in prayer and patriotic song, Jack Kemp on Wednesday picked up the endorsement of two prominent fundamentalist Christians in a move aimed at converting the evangelical constituency of GOP presidential rival Pat Robertson.
Tim and Beverly LaHaye endorsed the New York congressman at a revival-style rally, hinting at the ″electability″ factor that has shadowed the candidacy of the former television evangelist.
″Jack Kemp is the most electable conservative the Republican Party could nominate for president in 1988,″ Mrs. LaHaye said.
Her husband added, ″He represents all of our Christian values, and he can reach out to people.″
Mrs. LaHaye is the founder and president of Concerned Women for America, a group she said represents more than half a million conservative women across the country. Her husband, a minister and television speaker, is a prominent commentator on evangelical views.
The evangelical movement in Iowa is a strong and active faction of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Some estimates place the number at 60,000, enough to have a substantial impact on the Feb. 8 precinct caucuses, which are expected to be attended by about 100,000 party activists.
The LaHayes, who are based in Washington, said their endorsement comes because Kemp’s experience makes him the candidate with the best chance of being elected and carrying on conservative causes.
In addition, LaHaye said the evangelical Christian movement is not united behind Robertson.
″The evangelical community is kind of a new phenomenon to the press,″ LaHaye said. ″We don’t think like a bunch of robots.″
Robertson finished fourth in a straw poll at a National Association of Evangelicals meeting in October. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole topped the unscietific survey with 43 percent, followed by Kemp at 21 percent, Vice President George Bush at 19 percent and Robertson at 17 percent.
Kemp was careful to avoid offending Robertson.
″We’re not doing this to eat away at Pat Robertson,″ Kemp said. ″We’re anxious to have the endorsement to show that of all the candidates in the conservative wing of the Republican Party...that the one who has the best chance to win for the future of the cause and broaden that base is the Kemp campaign.″
Kemp aides, however, were more direct.
″This is an attempt to say to evangelical Christians that Pat Robertson is a wonderful man, but Jack Kemp has a far better chance of winning the election,″ said spokesman John Buckley.
Kemp’s campaign is based on appealing to the right wing of the Republican Party, and staffers hope that Robertson will fade and his backers will migrate to the Kemp campaign.
″Polls that we have seen, for example, in Michigan, show that among supporters of Pat Robertson, the second candidate they could support is Jack Kemp,″ Buckley said.
Republican Party activists were skeptical that Kemp could make deep inroads in the evangelical movement, though they conceded it’s unlikely Robertson will win the unanimous support of those voters.
″I don’t think all the evangelicals are for Pat Robertson, but I don’t think there is any way that anybody can pick off the Robertson supporters who are there at the present time,″ said Michael Mahaffey, chairman of the Republican Party in Iowa.
″To me, they just appear very committed in his campaign. I don’t see any diminution of that support, and I don’t see any of them changing ranks.″
But Kemp insisted his staunch anti-abortion and pro-family stands appeal to evangelicals, and that his years in Congress make him the candidate who could win the party nomination.
While appealing to fundamentalist Chirstians, Kemp praised Robertson for bringing new blood into the party, and worked hard to make it clear he wasn’t making a frontal assault on the former minister’s campaign.
″I do not want to be implying this is anti-Robertson or anti-anybody else,″ Kemp said. ″There are a lot of folks who haven’t made up their minds. Evangelicals do not speak with one voice, and we believe we have a chance of winning them.″
Kemp’s attempt to become the candidate of conservative Republicans has suffered in recent weeks. Former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont on Tuesday won the endorsement of the influential Union-Leader newspaper in Manchester, N.H., and most polls have shown Kemp trailing badly in Iowa.