Closed-Door Rally for Religious Conservatives

The Bush-Cheney campaign held a rally for religious conservatives behind closed doors Tuesday, as the GOP shifted public focus toward its more moderate representatives at the Republican convention.

The "Faith, Family & Freedom Rally" drew hundreds to the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Among the leaders who were introduced but did not speak were the Rev. Jerry Falwell, conservative activist Gary Bauer (search), and Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council (search), according to several people who attended the event.

The campaign also distributed written endorsements from evangelical leaders including the Rev. Jack Graham, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, a Colorado ministry.

"I'll be voting for President Bush," Dobson wrote. "President Bush understands the great moral issues of our time."

Bush appeared on video, outlining his support for the policies most important to religious conservatives, such as opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage. He pledged to "foster a culture of life" and "end discrimination against people of faith" in federal funding.

"It was focused on Christian values without question," said Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who attended the rally as president of Toward Tradition, which aims to build ties between Jewish and Christian conservatives. But he said those values have made America safe for Jews.

Ralph Reed, a GOP strategist and former leader of the Christian Coalition, addressed the crowd, as did Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

"The theme they wanted to get across is that George Bush is a man of faith," said Joseph Starrs, a leader of the American Life League, which has been pressuring Roman Catholic bishops to withhold Holy Communion from politicians who support abortion rights.

Starrs said the speakers expressed appreciation for the activism of abortion opponents and noted that in the 2000 campaign, Bush said Jesus was his favorite philosopher.

Speakers stressed how close the election would be and urged activists to call and e-mail friends and canvas their neighborhoods to get out the vote Nov. 2.

Chris Slattery, a Yonkers, N.Y., Republican and anti-abortion activist, said he was not bothered that the rally was private, while some Republicans who support abortion rights — such as former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — had top billing at the convention. He said some religious conservatives "can be loose cannons."

"The Republicans promote the big tent," Slattery said. "I don't agree with the strategy, but it's somewhat understandable."