Some of the nation's most politically influential conservative Christians, alarmed by the prospect of a Republican presidential nominee who supports abortion rights, are considering backing a third-party candidate.
More than 40 Christian conservatives attended a meeting Saturday in Salt Lake City to discuss the possibility, and planned more gatherings on how they should move forward, according to Richard A. Viguerie, the direct-mail expert and longtime conservative activist.
Other participants in the meeting included James Dobson, founder of the Focus on the Family evangelical ministry in Colorado Springs, Colo., and, according to Viguerie, Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a conservative policy group in Washington.
However, Dobson spoke out against the idea of a third party even if "both Democratic and Republican nominees are known to be entirely unsupportive of the sanctity of human life, the institution of marriage and other aspects of the pro-moral agenda," according to Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Focus on the Family Action.
A spokesman for Perkins did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Viguerie would not give specifics of the proposal or reveal additional names of participants, but said President Bush "would not have been elected in '04 without the people in that room."
"There is such a jaundiced feelings about any promises or commitments from any Republican leaders," he said in a phone interview. "You could almost cut the anger and the frustration with a knife in that room it's so strong. Because they don't know what else to do, they're talking third party."
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
The participants were in Salt Lake City for a separate meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, a group of conservative business, religious and political leaders that was co-founded years ago by Tim LaHaye, author of the "Left Behind" series of books. Vice President Dick Cheney flew into the city Friday to address the group, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Christian conservatives, who hold considerable sway in the Republican Party, have been deeply unhappy about the field of GOP presidential candidates.
Dobson has said he wouldn't support Rudy Giuliani, calling the former New York mayor an "unapologetic supporter of abortion on demand." Dobson has also rejected former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson as wrong on social issues, and wouldn't back John McCain because of the Arizona senator's opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Viguerie said conservatives "are still open" to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but said, "we haven't seen anything that guarantees that we will hold to the positions that he's articulating." Romney has been questioned about his record on gay rights.
However, the proposal to consider a third-party candidate comes from anger that the Republicans whom Christians have helped elect for decades have failed to act on policy issues important to evangelicals on abortion, marriage and school prayer.
"Conservatives have been treated like a mistress as long as any of us can remember," Viguerie said. "They'll have lots of private meetings with us, tell us how much they appreciate it and how much they value us, but if you see me on the street please don't speak with me."
A third-party run would be a long shot, requiring millions of dollars and challenges to ballot access. Such a bid could prove disastrous for the GOP by splitting the vote.