WASHINGTON – With choruses of amens, Christian activists on Friday affirmed that they have the power, with a little prayer and a lot of legwork, to assure that President Bush (search) stays in the White House.
"I feel a responsibility," said Bob Paquet, a pastor from Hankins, N.Y., "to use what influence I can so that the values I believe in, biblical values, will be upheld."
Paquet was one of about 1,000 people attending a Christian Coalition of America (search) conference, where they are being trained in organizing voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in their churches and neighborhoods. He said he'll be helping transport peoplte phone calls. She said those numbers might go down this time, as the group concentrates on the battleground states.
She said 87 percent of evangelicals voted for Bush in 2000 and the focus this time is the estimated 4 million who stayed home: "Four years ago they weren't sure who George Bush was. This time they are sure."
The Rev. Jerry Falwell (search) said the numbers, if they can be mobilized, are on their side. He said there are 80 million evangelicals now and that will grow to 100 million in five to seven years. "We're the only constituency growing within the Republican Party," Falwell said.
The coalition's national field director, Bill Thompson, told the group, "We are not going to let Christians sit at home this year. There will be no missing evangelicals this year."
Sue Banks of Atlanta, attending her first Christian Coalition conference, said she planned to help transport people to the polls, "people I know who haven't voted in a long time."
Alexia Kelley, director of religious outreach for the Democratic National Committee, said Republicans do not have a lock on evangelicals and John Kerry's presidential campaign will be seeking their vote in every state.
Evangelicals, she said, "are disillusioned because of the compassion gap." Millions of Americans have lost health insurance or jobs, she said, and "they are looking to John Kerry."
After listening to inspirational speeches on Thursday and Friday from a long line of conservatives, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Falwell, the conference participants on Saturday are to attend seminars on election laws, voter education, becoming a church liaison and other ways to get like-minded Christians to the polls.
Hastert cheered the audience by telling them the House next week will take up a constitutional amendment on gay marriage.
"We want to have a vote so people in every state will know where their elected representatives stand," said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., a chief sponsor of the gay marriage legislation.
Gay marriage, said Combs, could have a huge impact on voter turnout.
Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and now president of Liberty University, said that over the 39 days before the election he planned to meet hundreds of pastors every day, encouraging them to encourage their congregations to register and "instruct them to vote Christian."
"We are going to win by a landslide in November," he said in his speech. "But I want you to go home and tell everybody you're one point down."
Combs said Democrat Kerry, along with President Bush, had been invited to address the gathering. But the political leanings were clear from both the speakers and the audience.
"There is only one pro-life party in the United States of America," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the newly chosen head of GOP conservatives in the House. "There is one candidate in this race who is prepared to lead with moral courage."