(Photo: Reuters/Lee Celano)
Republican presidential candidates are gathering in Washington, D.C., beginning Friday to woo evangelicals and other values voters. All of the major candidates seeking the GOP nomination, except Jon Huntsman, are scheduled to speak at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit.
While the candidates’ positions on fiscal and economic issues capture the majority of headlines, social and pro-family issues will take center stage at this weekend’s event. However, FRC’s Tony Perkins sees the two set of issues as one.
“These issues are front and center. The social issues are intertwined with the fiscal issues,” Perkins told The Hill on Thursday. “People understand the reason we have big expensive government is because we have neglected and in many ways discouraged family formation, and that core economic foundation, which is the family.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), along with Texas Governor Rick Perry all regularly discuss their Christian faith on the stump and should feel at home with the conservative crowd. Georgia businessman Herman Cain, who is also a former associate pastor, also speaks frequently about his faith and issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
Although former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has held steady in the polls and feels at ease discussing economic and business issues, attendees and social conservatives nationwide will be listening to his comments closely, especially on issues such as abortion because his positions have evolved over the years. Unlike most of the other candidates who are Protestant, Romney, along with former Utah Governor Huntsman, are Mormon.
Huntsman, who has more liberal views on homosexuality and the environment, was invited, but declined the invitation.
Ever since the Tea Party debate in Florida two weeks ago, the polls have shifted with Perry stumbling over immigration issues and some of his previous statements on Social Security – his poll numbers falling from around 22 percent to around 17. As a result, Cain’s fiery comments have lifted him into the top tier of candidates, along with Romney, who has remained steady in the polls.
Over 3,000 participants are registered, making this the largest Values Voter Summit ever.
At a press conference last week, Perkins made it clear that what conservative voters are looking for is a pure conservative. “Conservatives win [elections] when they act like conservatives,” he said, rejecting the notion that candidates would lessen their chances of winning if they appealed to social conservatives.
He wants to see candidates be more outspoken about their socially conservative values. "[T]here should be a fidelity pledge where a candidate pledges to uphold traditional conservative values in the future," he said.
Perkins is scheduled to open the event on Friday morning and Speaker John Boehner will address the group, followed later in the day by Santorum, Cain, Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Bachmann.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Romney will both speak on Saturday.
Other conservative leaders scheduled to address voters this weekend include Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and conservative commentators Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Glenn Beck.
The event will come to a close on Sunday with a sermon by Perkins. A straw poll will be held during the weekend.