WASHINGTON – Christian conservatives have thus far failed to rally behind a single candidate, but a prominent conservative leader predicts at least one candidate will emerge from the upcoming Values Voter Summit with major support from social conservatives.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, recently said he was "very optimistic" with the field of candidates that will attend this week's Washington Briefing 2007: Values Voter Summit. He believes there will be one to two contenders that will be revealed as the favorite among social conservatives during the three-day gathering.
But even if none of the candidates appeal to values voters, it is not a good idea to sit out an election, Perkins said.
"As citizens of this country we have the ability and the right to participate and I believe as Christian citizens we have an obligation to be involved in our community and our country," the FRC president expressed during a news conference Thursday.
Over 2,000 social conservatives are expected to attend the Oct. 19-21 values voter summit in Washington, where eight Republican presidential hopefuls will address the largest gathering of pro-family activists.
The summit's Republican guests include contenders Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, and others. All Democratic candidates except for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have declined the invitation to speak.
Those at the values voter summit will look for a candidate who shares similar values, which for most include pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-family principles.
Although Giuliani is pro-choice, the former New York mayor will also address the crowd of anti-abortion activists. Perkins said Giuliani's presence as the only pro-choice Republican candidate will bring a kind of civility to the event at which he will be cordially treated and given the same amount of times as others to speak.
Furthermore, Giuliani will benefit from attending the socially conservative event because it will be harder for attendees to "demonize" him after they spend time with him, according to Perkins, who said he used the same tactic while running for a position in the U.S. Senate.
Also addressed during the news conference last Thursday was the controversy over a possible third party candidate.
During a meeting in Salt Lake City late last month, about 50 pro-family leaders had reportedly decided they would consider backing a third-party candidate if the Republican Party chose a pro-choice nominee, such as Giuliani.
Perkins contends that the media "misconstrued a little bit" the intention of social conservatives to "create a third party." What the coalition intended to proclaim was not a decision to support a third party candidate but to proclaim their refusal to compromise certain core principles.
"There is no desire to create a third party," Perkins explained. "There is no action underway to create a third party. There is simply a statement that 'Yes, if the [Republican] party breaks faith with social conservatives then there will be a number of social conservatives that will break rank with the party.'"
Gary Schneeberger, Focus on the Family Action's vice president of media relations, has similarly had to sort through some of the controversy that has swirled around his organization's founder, Dr. James Dobson, who attended the meeting in Salt Lake City.
"Dr. Dobson never has said he will personally start a third party or even support efforts to create a new party," Schneeberger clarified in a statement Friday.
"It (Dobson's recent editorial in The New York Times) merely is saying, 'I'll look for a candidate who is consistent with my values, who is already running in the primary, and I'll cast my vote for him.'"
Last week, Dobson also noted that the elections are still far away and are "very dynamic" and "volatile."
"There's still a possibility that one of those other candidates, a dark horse, could come from nowhere," Dobson said on Fox's Hannity & Colmes show Monday.
According to organizers of this week's values voter summit, the briefing in Washington is important because it provides the largest platform for presidential candidates to address social conservatives. It also provides a straw poll that will be announced late Saturday of who social conservatives are currently leaning towards.