Religious Conservatives to Judge Top Republicans
Some of the Republican Party’s most ambitious leaders are courting religious conservatives as evangelical officials claim new momentum in their fight for the GOP’s soul.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition, led by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, launches its annual conference Thursday with appearances by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Almost every other top-tier prospective presidential hopeful is on the agenda for the three-day gathering in Washington.
"This is the most conservative, the most pro-life and the most pro-family stable of candidates we’ve ever had," Reed told The Associated Press in an interview. "Not only do you not have someone running who’s socially moderate to liberal that we can see so far, but you have a lot of people who are going to run who are actually champions on these issues."
The speaking program includes a pair of social conservative favorites, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor. Both are former presidential candidates weighing 2016 campaigns. But religious conservatives like Reed note that most GOP White House hopefuls considered more mainstream oppose gay marriage and abortion rights, including funding for Planned Parenthood, among other social conservative priorities.
That group includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is scheduled to deliver his first major address to evangelical voters Friday, along with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and a libertarian favorite, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who personally opposes gay marriage and abortion rights but suggests that the GOP focus less on divisive social issues as it tries to broaden its appeal after a disappointing 2012 election season.