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Religious conservatives to judge GOP's early White House contenders

Some of the Republican Party's most ambitious leaders are courting religious conservatives as evangelical officials claim new momentum in their fight for the GOP's soul.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition, led by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, launches its annual conference Thursday with appearances by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Almost every other top-tier prospective presidential hopeful is appearing at the three-day gathering in Washington.

More than 1,000 evangelical voters are attending. Organizers hope the event mobilizes religious conservatives ahead of the upcoming midterm elections and 2016 presidential contest.

While polls suggest social conservatives are losing their fight against gay marriage, Republican officials say evangelical voters continue to play a critical role in GOP politics.

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