Conservative movement still seeks frontrunner

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COLUMBIA - Search the slate of GOP presidential frontrunners, and it's impossible to find a darling of the social-conservative movement.

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That - plus the fact that the Iraq war, and not domestic policy, is the key issue of the race - is leading to speculation that the religious right is at a crossroads in terms of its political power, and that the extent to which social conservatives hold sway in the next election and beyond might be determined in the next few weeks.

"I think a lot of people are wondering where the evangelicals are, when you have someone like Rudy Giuliani as a frontrunner," Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said.

"What I think is it's sort of teetering as to whether they're going to come (out) in full force in this election," he said.

Among the GOP candidates who habitually score highest in national and early-voting state polls:

- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been criticized for his support of abortion and gay rights.

- Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has been dubbed a flip-flopper on abortion, accused of taking a firm, pro-life stand only around the time he considered a run for president.

- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage unless the Supreme Court overturns state bans, and he supports federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

- Fred Thompson, the one-time senator from Tennessee who'd like to swoop in as the savior of conservative Republicans, has been taken to task for his past lobbying on behalf of an abortion-rights group and was scolded last week by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson in an e-mail obtained by the Associated Press.

"There is some (conservative leaning) with the top tier, but not as much as I would like," Carolyn McDonald, of Columbia, acknowledged, while attending Thursday's Palmetto Family Council's forum for presidential candidates.

During the event's straw poll, Ms. McDonald voted for California Congressman Duncan Hunter, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee walked away with the win with 38 percent, and Ron Paul came in second place at 33 percent. Mr. Thompson came in a distant third at 8 percent.

Straw polls are an unreliable indicator of who will win the Republican nod when primary and caucus voting begins in less than four months.

But it's evidence that the religious right is torn and not fully committed to any frontrunner, University of South Carolina political scientist Blease Graham said.

Candidates themselves are trying to attract the GOP's religious base, but are leery of alienating other constituencies, particularly in light of Republican losses in 2006, Mr. Graham said.

"It may well be ... that in the (wake) of that election, in order to build coalitions, Republicans may have to start from a moderate position," he said.

Much of the social-conservative base has lined up behind one of its own, such as Mr. Huckabee, an ordained Baptist.

That potentially puts people such as Mr. Huckabee in a strong position to wield power in the next Republican administration if they can bring in the conservative vote to whomever wins, Mr. Graham said.

Ms. Huffmon believes social conservatives have about two months to change the nature of the primary/caucus race, if they can get issues such as abortion and gay marriage - instead of just Iraq and security - back in the discussion.

If they are successful, it could vault someone such as Mr. Huckabee into the first tier of candidates, he said.

"They would decidedly change the balance of power," Ms. Huffmon said.

Social-conservative leaders insist that their influence hasn't diminished since the height of the Christian Coalition in the 1990s, it has simply gone mainstream.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at 803-414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com

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patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 09/24/07 - 04:28 am
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What a totally bizarre

What a totally bizarre article. I guess this is how the left analyzes the conservative vote. How odd. This makes it clear why the left is never right.

naugliberal
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naugliberal 09/24/07 - 05:24 am
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What do you expect from a far

What do you expect from a far left rag like the Augusata Chronicle? This makes it clear why the right is never left.

jack
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jack 09/24/07 - 08:38 am
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My money is on Fred Thompson.

My money is on Fred Thompson. A former lobbyist or not, his base priciples are those of we conservatives. One thng he ain't and that is a leftist socialist like the mob running for the DIMocRATS with Hitlery leading that socialist pack.

Signal Always
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Signal Always 09/24/07 - 09:05 am
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I'd like to give Hope another

I'd like to give Hope another chance.

charles yonce
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charles yonce 09/24/07 - 09:11 am
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i don't know about that

i don't know about that smokey, this rag is 99%gop.wait till next nov and see who they endorse,it will be the repuke candidate.jack, knows as all of us political pundits that the gop is dead,they have no one who stands out.rudy will get the scared of their shadow crowd,mccain will get the hawks(war forever!)crowd,romney will get his backyard,and the rest won't make it till nov,anyway.

nate59
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nate59 09/24/07 - 09:55 am
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All of these want a bee's

All of these want a bee's John Mc Cain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney what a joke.

GuyIncognito
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GuyIncognito 09/24/07 - 10:23 am
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Is it a bad thing that the

Is it a bad thing that the Republican candidates aren't so conservative. Maybe it'll be someone who can appeal to the center (where most voters fall). The Democrat candidates haven't had any trouble in their race to the left.

sjgraci
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sjgraci 09/24/07 - 10:29 am
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James Dobson can't stand

James Dobson can't stand Phony Fred. Without Dobson telling his minions who to vote for, there is no front running conservative candidate. Maybe all the American Taliban will stay home this election or better yet, finally split from the GOP (Gay Ol' Perverts) and nominate their own candidate. Say, do you think Dobson will support Allan Keyes? Maybe they can bring on Joe Lieberman as a running mate. Nah, it would never happen and jack and his ilk would never vote for them. So maybe the hypocrites will nominate the liberal NY City candidate whose name ends with a vowel, belongs to a cult religion, loves gays and abortion, and hates guns. Whoever the conservatives eventually endorse, even if it is the other "cult" hero Romney, none of them are going to beat Hillary. Just prepare yourselves for 8 more years of God-less communism and socialism Clinton style. Oh the Clenis is going to soil the sacred White House again. The end times are near. This time. Really.

Signal Always
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Signal Always 09/24/07 - 12:00 pm
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Wow sjgraci, what a tolerant

Wow sjgraci, what a tolerant little liberal you are. Calling Catholicism and Mormonism a "cult".

sjgraci
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sjgraci 09/24/07 - 12:41 pm
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Thanks, hence the "". I am a

Thanks, hence the "". I am a tolerant liberal. As I think you probably are aware (dishonestly), unless you are rather dim, it's not me that feels that way, as I was brought up a Catholic and happen to spend a lot of time in SLC with Mormons. I, and most liberals, actually could care less about any candidate's religion. It's the American Taliban and followers of James Dobson and the conservative political movement that do care, believe all other religions are a "cult", and wish to shove their brand of funamentalism down eveyrone's throat. Next, why don't you tell me how tolerant I am, or not, because I mentioned a black man, a Jew, and a phony Baptist as well. Some will never get the irony of the sarcasm that is pointed directly at them...

naugliberal
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naugliberal 09/24/07 - 03:27 pm
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I was being facetious. geez.

I was being facetious. geez.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 09/24/07 - 04:31 pm
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smokey, being facetious on a

smokey, being facetious on a conservative page works. This one is open and it will go over half of the readers heads. I don't let that stop me, just thought I'd let you know to lessen any possible frustration you may encounter.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 09/24/07 - 04:33 pm
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The misconstrued bizarre

The misconstrued bizarre article only makes sense to the far left mind. sjgraci understands it perfectly.

Chuchi
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Chuchi 09/24/07 - 08:03 pm
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Any candidate who doesn't

Any candidate who doesn't stick to his/her party's core values tends to not win elections. Look at what happened a short time ago with the Republicans in Congress. They lost the majority because so many of them faltered and were not firm in standing for what they believed in. But this is true for both parties, not just Republicans. You can't appeal to everyone just to get votes; the voters have to know that you stand for something absolute. Democratic candidates will have an equally hard time if they keep trying to appeal both to the center and far-left-of-center voters. Personally, I think Fred Thompson will get the Republican nomination because he appeals to a wider base. Giuliani is a bit of a city slicker and not conservative enough to get the Christian vote. If Fred gets Condaleeza as his vice he could be a formidable opponent. I think Obama will get the Democratic nomination because although Hilary wants it bad, she doesn't have quite the same charisma as her hubby and she doesn't appeal to enough women to grab the female vote. I think she'll get vice. I'm actually pretty neutral on this subject since I'm really not a political person; just having fun making predictions.

Signal Always
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Signal Always 09/24/07 - 11:36 pm
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Bush was elected and he's by

Bush was elected and he's by FAR a fiscal conservative....something I look for FIRST in a candidate. I had no other choice.

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