Christian Coalition out to call presidential tune

RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

"We are not Republicans or Democrats, but followers of a humble carpenter from Galilee." To this rallying cry did God's political army assemble here yesterday. The words belonged to Ralph Reed, director of the Christian Coalition - and the forces who march to them could determine the outcome of next year's US presidential election.

The assertion of neutrality is not strictly true, of course. The Coalition is the spearhead of America's religious right. Its founder, Pat Robertson, sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, while the 43 million "non-partisan voters' guides" it distributed via churches and parish mailing lists last year were a prime reason for the Republicans' 1994 sweep of Congress.

Its anti-government and back-to-basics agenda of "family values" drives the party's social policies. The promotional stands outside the "Road to Victory 1995" conference at the Washington Hilton yesterday featured such pro-Republican stalwarts as the National Rifle Association, the Right to Life anti-abortion group and the conservative Heritage Foundation think- tank. And just to dispel any lingering doubts about the Coalition's influence, seven of the nine declared Republican candidates for the 1996 nomination were there in person to seek its favours.

Yesterday those to pay tribute to the Almighty included the nervy front- runner Bob Dole and his closest challenger, Senator Phil Gramm. "There's only one person who's ever lived I would trust to impose values on America," declared Mr Gramm in a sample of the oratory which will dominate proceedings, "and when he comes back he won't need government to impose his values." The applause was thunderous.

Today, however, promises the real fireworks, in the person of Alan Keyes, the lone black candidate whose campaign consists of spellbinding oratory and a fanatical opposition to abortion, and the conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, whose "America first" fundamentalism commands the hearts - if not the heads - of so many Republicans. Mr Buchanan has won the honour of giving tonight's keynote address. He threatens to steal the show as comprehensively as he stole Ross Perot's conference in Dallas four weeks ago.

No less revealing are the two candidates who will not be addressing the conference: Governor Pete Wilson of California, whose plea of urgent political duties back home may have something to do with his tolerance of gays and abortion, and Senator Arlen Specter, so strong an advocate of a woman's right to choose that he was not invited in the first place.

Both perhaps may prove wise to have stayed away. For one thing Mr Reed, whose choirboy looks conceal a powerbroker's mind, has no desire to tip his hand at this early stage. "The question is not who we endorse, but who endorses our agenda," he said in his opening address.

Messrs Buchanan, Dole and Gramm, all of whom have recruited Coalition activists to help run their campaigns, are perhaps best placed to claim the movement's following. But Mr Reed's immediate priority is to his agenda, laid out in the Coalition's "Contract with the American Family," making its way through Congress as part of the other and more famous ''Contract with America'' spearheaded by the House Speaker, Newt Gingrich.

And for all the clout of the "30 to 40 million grassroots pro-family evangelicals and Roman Catholics" whom Mr Reed claimed yesterday to speak for, their support may be a mixed blessing. In the primaries, their votes could be decisive; later on, when Bill Clinton is the opponent, it may be otherwise.

Already the President is wrapping around himself the mantle of family values. The Democrats will then use the more contentious parts of the religious right's programme to portray the Republicans as prisoners of a fanatical fringe.

But the Coalition is here to stay. "We will ride on the back of the bus no longer," warned Mr Reed. He plans to lift its membership from 1.6 million to 2 million before the spring primary season. Not so long ago, a son of former President George Bush described coalition activists as "cockroaches issuing from the baseboards of the Bible Belt". Today the roaches are running the kitchen.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices