Evangelical Groups Spending Millions to Drive Social Conservative Turnout for 2018 Midterms

Voters leave a polling station after casting their votes during the U.S. presidential election in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, November 8, 2016.
Voters leave a polling station after casting their votes during the U.S. presidential election in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, November 8, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Aaron Josefczyk)

Conservative evangelical grassroots organizations will spend millions of dollars in the coming weeks in an attempt to drive conservative Christian turnout for the 2018 midterm elections this November.

Three conservative evangelical lobbying organizations will work to ensure that evangelicals turn out to support conservative candidates in House and Senate races this November at the same rate in which they supported President Donald Trump in 2016.

As exit polls showed that about 81 percent of self-described white evangelicals supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election, leaders with the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the Family Policy Alliance and the Family Research Council are hoping to encourage conservative Christians who might not be likely to vote this November to show up at the polls and support candidates who can help advance the Trump administration's social conservative agenda.

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Although midterm election trends have not been kind to the party of the incumbent president, that is a trend that these groups are trying to overcome. As anti-Trump sentiment continues to increase on the political left, these groups are trying to get conservatives to match the fervor and enthusiasm.

"There is going to be a huge wave of Democratic voters show up at the polls in November," Faith & Freedom Coalition Communications Director Lance Lemmonds told The Christian Post.

"We can't control that but we can match the enthusiasm and match the turnout model. It is groups like ours that are going to hit the pavement to try and match that enthusiasm. We know [Democrats] are doing it. When we are out knocking on doors, we see the other side out in the same neighborhoods, we see their rallies. We know they are enthusiastic about voting. A lot of it is an anti-Trump sentiment and a lot of it is an anti-Republican sentiment and they are really not happy with the social conservative policies of this administration."

Although many Americans — like in many midterm election years — won't be enticed to vote in an election in which there is no big-name presidential ticket to vote on, Lemmonds assured that what is at stake is the ability to continue the "unprecedented level of social conservative policies that have come out of this administration."

Passing laws that social conservative voters favor will be tougher if either the House or Senate are to flip from Republican to Democrat control.

Faith & Freedom Coalition, an organization headed by longtime social conservative lobbyist Ralph Reed, plans to spend about $18 million by Nov. 6 to micro-target around 125 million social conservative voters across 19 different states through door-to-door interactions, digital ads, phone calls, and mailers.

In those 19 states, Faith & Freedom Coalition canvassers plan to hit as many as 2 million doors for face-to-face interactions.

"We started around Labor Day and will run through Election Day," Lemmonds said. "What that entails are volunteers going door to door. We have targeted voters based on their voting records and based on how we understand that they are pro-life."

Faith & Freedom monitors voters' databases to see which of the people they have interacted with vote early. For those that haven't voted early, the organization will send out about 28 million digital ads encouraging them to vote in the last weekend and Monday before the vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

"We will inundate Christian conservative voters in the last weekend," Lemmonds assured. "We will send those ads directly to their cellphones."

Additionally, Faith & Freedom has also partnered with 30,000 local churches to distribute voter education guides. The guides are tailored to each individual Senate or House race and gives voters a comparison of where the two major party candidates in those races stand on the issues that social conservative voters in those states care most about.

Lemmonds said that Faith & Freedom is targeting key House and Senate races in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Montana, Michigan, West Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Virginia.

While the coalition plans to spend about $18 million in its voter turnout efforts in 2018, the organization spent only about $10 million toward campaign efforts in 2016 and about $5 million for the 2014 midterms.

"Organizationally, we have grown significantly since the 2014 midterms," Lemmonds explained. "We are up to nearly 2 million members now. Our direct fundraising is very robust at the moment. Also, our donor program is very robust. Our donors and members understand what is at stake this year and they have stepped up to the plate."

As for the Family Policy Alliance, which was formerly affiliated with Focus on the Family until 2013, the organization will raise about $3 million for its grassroots voter turnout efforts in 2018.

The FPA, however, is targeting mostly conservative Christians who are not likely to vote in the midterm elections.

In addition to House and Senate races, the organization is trying to influence state legislative and statewide races. Family Policy Alliance, through its in-state allies, will be active in as many as 65 races nationwide.

The alliance will be involved in seven key House and Senate races. Chief among them is North Dakota's Senate race in which Republican candidate Kevin Cramer is trying to unseat Democrat incumbent Heidi Heitkamp.

"People need to remember that president Trump is not on the ballot this year but with those that are on the ballot, there is going to be a choice between a candidate who will advance life and religious freedom and family and there will be a candidate who doesn't," FPA's Vice President of Strategy Autumn Leva told CP. "If voters don't show up to support the pro-family candidate, then we are going to have a very big problem passing pro-family policies when it comes to the laws that are advanced at the state level and federal level next year."

FPA was also active in the 2018 midterm primary elections as it made over 850,000 voter connections and "helped 39 stronger pro-family candidates win critical primary elections in 8 different states."

Family Research Council Action, the lobbying arm of the a Washington, D.C.-based social conservative nonprofit Family Research Council, has also launched a bus tour that will include over 40 stops in states such as California, Montana, North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Ohio.

"The Values Bus is driving throughout the country to encourage and equip voters to vote their values on Nov. 6," the organization's website explained. "Launched by FRC Action, the Values Bus Tour will help inform citizens in key states and communities across America. We will help mobilize Values Voters as we work together to preserve the bedrock values of religious freedom, sanctity of life, the family, and limited government that make our nation strong. There is tremendous importance in the thousands of races on the ballot this year at the federal, state, and local levels."

On the Left on the political spectrum, an evangelical-led group called Vote Common Good will launch a 31-city bus tour of its own to encourage voters to vote against Republican members of Congress in 34 congressional districts nationwide.

The group is led by pastor Doug Pagitt of Solomon's Porch, a holistic missional Christian community in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Pagitt maintains that Vote Common Good rallies will be more like "revivals" designed to encourage voters to oust politicians who don't reflect the common good for all people.

The events will feature live music and speeches by a rotating cast of Christian leaders who are allies of the organization, including Rob Schenck, Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne and Frank Schaeffer.

Pagitt told CP that the group opposes Trump administration policies on immigration, refugees, health care, the 2017 tax overhaul and poverty.

"We are going into places where two years ago those places voted for a Republican," Pagitt said. "Many of the states we are in have a Senate race that is important as well — Missouri, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona."

"It's not legitimate to try and hashtag your way and post your way into some kind of new way of civic engagement," he added. "As important as hashtag movements are, you actually have to show up places. Especially as a Christian, the fullness of God dwells in Jesus as a presence on the Earth. You can't just talk about it. The divide between people is so intense that the only way to get around it is to go."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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