WASHINGTON – Evangelical Christians who were rooting for Fred Thompson to join the White House race are now pulling back and more carefully scrutinizing the man they might rally behind and call their commander-in-chief.
"A month or two ago, I sensed there was some urgency for people to make a move and find a candidate," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, according to The Associated Press. "Right now, I think people are stepping back a little and watching. The field is still very fluid."
Thompson, a former Tennessee senator and an actor on the hit TV drama "Law & Order," has portrayed himself as a conservative candidate opposed to abortion and gay "marriage" – two key political concerns of evangelical conservatives.
However, under closer scrutiny, Thompson has been seen by some Christian leaders as not firm enough in defending core issues of the Christian right.
In August, the former senator told CNN that he supports an amendment that would prohibit states from imposing their gay "marriage" laws on other states. While Thompson's position is a conservative one, it is much more lenient than what evangelical leaders want – an amendment banning same-sex "marriage" nationwide.
"The problem I'm having is that I don't see any blood trail," said Rick Scarborough, a Southern Baptist preacher and president of Vision America, according to The Associated Press. "When you really take a stand on issues dear to the heart of social conservatives, you're going to shed some blood in the process. And so far, Fred Thompson's political career has been wrinkle-free."
Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, voiced concern of Thompson flip-flopping on the gay "marriage" issue. Staver and other evangelical leaders had met with Thompson in June and were assured of the presidential hopeful's desire for more significant constitutional changes on the topic.
"At one time, he said he was against it," Staver said to AP. "Then he said in June he was for it. So if now he's saying he's against it, to me that's a double-minded person. And that would be a real concern for religious conservatives."
Evangelicals, however, are forced to take into consideration the current lack of GOP presidential options.
Front-runner Rudy Giuliani is seen as too liberal with his support for abortion and gay rights. Meanwhile, Arizona Sen. John McCain has made a couple strong criticisms against evangelical leaders, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has also been criticized for flip-flopping on the abortion issue and for his ties to the Mormon church – which many evangelicals consider a cult.
As evangelical leaders acknowledge the need for more assessment of potential favorite Thompson, they have also pointed out that the ultimate goal is to win the White House seat.
"This is a dilemma a lot of people have," said Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association. "They want to support the candidate that most reflects their values. But at the same time, you have to balance that against finding someone who can actually win."
According to the new USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday, Thompson is said to be in second-place behind former New York mayor Giuliani.