Huckabee's Non-Expanding Base

Now in the middle of a heated presidential primary race, Mike Huckabee seems to be trying to expand his base beyond the evangelical Christian voters who propelled him to victory in Iowa - or, more accurately, seems to be trying to convince himself and the press that his base of supporters extends beyond those who are seeking a "Christian Leader":
This morning, on a Detroit talk radio show, Huckabee said his candidacy is appealing to more than evangelical Christian voters. He said that national polls showing him ahead of the field prove he's reaching a broader audience. "This talk that it's just an Iowa thing or an evangelical thing has not proved to be true," he said.
If Huckabee has evidence that his campaign is making an effort to win over non-evangelicals, he should make that public because recent press coverage of his efforts in Michigan and South Carolina suggests otherwise: From the AP:
In the final campaign stretch in South Carolina, Huckabee backers will distribute voter guides and air radio announcements urging Christian pastors to speak out on moral issues and encourage people to vote, said Janet Folger, a Florida-based talk show host and co-chair of Huckabee's Faith and Family Values Coalition.
From CNN:
But as in Iowa, the biggest secret to Huckabee's Michigan success seems to be his depth of support among evangelical Christians. Typically, somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of Michigan's Republican primary voters are self-identified evangelicals. A few weeks ago, a Detroit News survey found that number may be as high as 40 percent this year. So pro-Huckabee organizers say they are focusing their entire effort on turning out evangelical church goers. They plan to call every evangelical pastor in the state over the next few days. Those ministers can't endorse any candidate from the pulpit -- but they can tell their parishioners that "it's their Christian duty," to turn out on primary day, said [Gary] Glenn. "And we know who they'll be voting for." To help drive that message home, thousands of volunteers will be dropping leaflets and waving signs in church parking lots across Michigan this Sunday. Glenn says there will also be several news conferences across the state through the January 15 vote featuring groups of pastors announcing their personal support for Huckabee, an organized wave of callers into Michigan's Christian radio stations, and phone trees targeting the state's largest churches from within.
From the American Prospect:
I've been told that Huckabee is slated to speak at the Pastors' Policy Briefing scheduled for this month in Orlando, Florida, which will also feature San Antonio televangelist John Hagee, who hosted Huckabee at his church in December. The Florida event is being facilitated by Orlando attorney John Stemberger, who was behind the drive to get a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the November ballot in Florida. ... The Pastors' Policy Briefings are secretive and closed to the press, and there's no evidence that any of the other presidential candidates spoke at them, or were even invited to speak at them.
From Bloomberg:
Huckabee recently moved his campaign into larger offices in Columbia and has been invited to preach in local churches on topics such as family values and parenting. Randy Page, president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a Columbia-based advocacy group, said the invitations reflect Huckabee's appeal among evangelicals. "He's a preacher so it's easier for him to get into a pulpit," said Page, a Baptist who endorsed Thompson. "For a presidential candidate, it's unprecedented."

Can Romney Avoid the Noid in Michigan?

According to the Washington Times, the Republican primary in Michigan next week will be a “do-or-die” moment for Mitt Romney’s campaign. The candidate is polling ahead in the state, where he launched his campaign and where his father was governor. Hoping for a clean victory, Romney recently shifted resources to Michigan from South Carolina and Florida.

And now Romney can boast the support of a major religious-right force in Michigan: Thomas Monaghan, the billionaire founder of Domino’s Pizza, who created or funded groups such as the Ann Arbor PAC, Ave Maria List, and the Thomas More Law Center, along with Ave Maria School of Law, Ave Maria University, and an entire Ave Maria Town in Florida dedicated to his conservative Catholic vision. Previously, Monaghan had backed Sam Brownback, but the far-right senator dropped out of the race in October.

Although Monaghan has relocated his mini-empire to Florida, he may still carry enough influence to counteract Huckabee-backer Gary Glenn, the head of the American Family Association’s state affiliate, who has been an anti-Romney gadfly for over a year. Indeed, Glenn’s e-mail urging Huckabee supporters to mobilize churches all but cedes Catholics to Romney.

Says Monaghan,

As someone who values the importance of faith in one's life, I recognize in Mitt his deep religious convictions which will serve him well in facing the critical moral issues facing our society. I believe he will stand firm on the pro-life issues and for the traditional family values that our country was founded on and which are so critical to the future of our nation.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Romney, as the head of Bain Capital in 1998, made Monaghan a billionaire when it bought Domino’s.

Huckabee Stands Alone

Elaine Donnelly seemingly has no actual experience serving in the military, but that hasn’t stopped her from establishing a career as president of the Center for Military Readiness through which she crusades against women and gays in the military.  

The Detroit News profiled Donnelly back in November 2006 and explained that she initially got her start in politics working alongside Phyllis Schlafly in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment:

Donnelly has been expressing such opinions for more than two decades in an activist career that began alongside conservative anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafly, fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment.

She was briefly involved in Michigan Republican politics during the 1980s, serving as first female chair of the state GOP's issue committee, and played an active role opposing the elder President Bush.

During years of debate on the ERA, Donnelly said, she became frightened by the possibility her two daughters could be forced to register for selective service, just as boys are when they turn 18. In 1984, the Reagan administration appointed her to a Pentagon committee on women in the armed forces, and eight years later, the first President Bush placed her on a presidential commission examining policies on assigning women.

Those experiences cemented, she said, the conviction that liberals are intent on imposing their social agenda on the military, even if the evidence says those policies hurt the military's ability to fight.

Since then, Donnelly has made it her mission to ensure that women do not serve in combat and that gays do not serve at all while making outrageous statements, such as her suggestion that retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili recent call for the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy was somehow tied to a stoke he had suffered.

So when Donnelly sent out a survey to all presidential candidates demanding to know whether they will “promote inclusion and acceptance of homosexuals in the military” and “faithfully enforce the 1993 statute … which states that homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military,” the candidates had enough sense to ignore her – except for one:

[Mike] Huckabee, was the only candidate who provided complete answers to the [Center for Military Readiness’] questions, Mrs. Donnelly said. Mr. Huckabee stated that he supports compliance with regulations and laws banning women in or near direct ground combat and he also opposes Selective Service registration of young women.

While Fred Thompson was the only other candidate to respond, he did so only with a statement saying he “supports current law regarding gays in the military and current Defense Department policies”  whereas the Huckabee campaign actually took the time to respond in full to her questions, thus reinforcing the growing sense that his willingness to engage and associate himself with fringe right-wing activists seems to know no bounds. 

Breaking News: Keyes Wasn't Invited to This Debate, Either

When Alan Keyes announced his latest quixotic campaign, someone might have thought he hit the ground running: He was featured just three days later at the Values Voter Debate alongside real, live presidential candidates. Granted, he may have benefited from the fact that the four Republican front runners all skipped that event, and in the end, he didn’t make too much of an impression, but none the less, it’s nice to be wanted. And he also scored a spot at Tavis Smiley’s black-oriented forum on PBS (although again, the four leading candidates skipped that debate).

But alas, “the Big Mo” would elude Keyes. He was left out of the GOP debate in Michigan; blaming NBC, Keyes called it a “sham.” (On the other hand, it did have those four candidates…) He was also left out of the next debate in Orlando. Worst of all, he wasn’t even invited to speak at the Family Research Council Values Voter Summit.

So at this point, it’s not too surprising that Keyes would be left out of last night’s CNN/YouTube Republican debate. Nevertheless, Keyes campaign chief Stephen Stone (who moonlights as a pro-Keyes editor of Keyes’s RenewAmerica website) is outraged. Stone, in a angry—and long-winded—e-mail exchange with CNN, threatens legal action and insinuates foul play:

How do CNN and YouTube intend to dispel the obvious appearance that their exclusion of Ambassador Keyes from the debate does in fact amount to an attempt to damage the Keyes campaign? In other words, explain why the behavior of CNN and YouTube is not intentionally self-fulfilling — since it presumes in advance that the Keyes campaign lacks viability, and then proceeds to ensure such lack of viability by excluding Dr. Keyes from the nation's consciousness — even though he is the most eloquent and persuasive Republican candidate in the race, a candidate who in 2000 was widely credited with winning the Republican presidential debates and came in third in the primaries, and whose candidacy, therefore, cannot objectively be considered less than viable.

Anti-Abortion Movement Split Spills onto Presidential Race

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the reappearance of a somewhat rusty tactic in the anti-abortion movement’s tool belt: attempts to pass a “Human Life Amendment” to several state constitutions, which would purportedly grant full “personhood” rights beginning at conception. Such an end-run would circumvent a protracted political debate—which they could lose, as they did when South Dakota voters rejected an abortion ban last year—and likely end up in federal court, where activists hope new right-wing Supreme Court justices will take the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the major national religious-right groups have preferred a more incremental strategy of advancing less-sweeping restrictions and promoting Republican politicians who promise to appoint anti-abortion judges, leaving absolutist activists out in the cold, as the Times notes:

For the most part, the campaigns are run by local activists, with little support or funding from big national antiabortion groups. Similar efforts have failed in the past: Proponents in Michigan could not collect enough signatures to put a personhood measure on the ballot in 2006. The Georgia proposal stalled in the Legislature this year.

Indeed, Clarke Forsythe and Denise Burke of Americans United for Life—a legal group active since the 1970s—published an article in National Review today calling the HLA “a losing move for the pro-life movement.” While AUL is hardly an influential group in this decade, its anti-HLA commentary recalls the anti-abortion movement’s in-fighting in the 1980s and 1990s over militant clinic protests (and the occasional murder of doctors). Although AUL was happy to represent militant activist Joseph Scheidler and his Pro-Life Action League in court, at the same time it pooh-poohed the frenzied “Summer of Mercy” protest in Wichita in 1991. “[I]t is better to show the public that [the abortion provider’s] practices are unlawful than to engage in tactics that attract attention to the unlawfulness of pro-lifers,” cautioned AUL’s president.

Update: Donohue Declares End to Beer Beef

After a month—and 14 press releases—the Catholic League today announced the end of its mini-boycott against Miller Brewing Company.

Schlafly: Still Candidate Shopping, but a Tough Customer

Phyllis Schlafly, who has been fighting feminism and liberalism for decades, still appears on 460 radio stations daily. She said she is “still shopping” for a candidate and she made it clear it wouldn’t be easy to win her vote. She had a very long list of demands for any presidential candidate – not only prolife but willing to make a series of pledges (veto Freedom of choice act, veto stem cell research, ban cloning, keep GOP anti-choid plank); not just pro-traditional marriage, but promising to sign legislation banning judges from finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Among the many other topics to which she would demand purity from candidates: The rights of parents in public school to keep their kids from learning about homosexuality or Islam. Judges who will stand up against the organized campaign to banish God, the Ten Commandments, and the Pledge of Allegiance from public schools. Reject the kind of comprehensive immigration reform George W. Bush advocated – what she called the Bush-Kennedy amnesty. Back English as our official language.

42 Members of Congress Protest Recognition of Ramadan

The House passed a resolution this week recognizing the commencement of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, denouncing extremists of that faith, and praising moderates. No members of Congress voted against the symbolic measure, but—in a move reminiscent of protests when a Hindu chaplain gave an opening prayer in the Senate—41 Republicans and one Democrat declined to approve of the resolution, instead voting “present” in an act of protest.

"To offer respect for a major religion is one thing, but to offer respect for a major religion that has been behind the Islamic jihad, the radical jihad, that has sworn war upon the United States, its free allies and freedom in Iraq, is another thing,” explained freshman Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg, who won his seat last year by defeating an incumbent of his own party in a right-wing primary challenge. Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn—who similarly captured the support of the far Right in a bitter primary, earning the repudiation of the retiring Republican who had held his seat—said, “I couldn't bring myself to vote 'yes' on that resolution,” adding that he “hope[s] that we have more and more moderate Muslims speaking out about the cause of peace in the future.”

Another argument made by opponents of the resolution is the claim that it represents an unfair treatment of Christianity. Rep. Tom Tancredo—who has suggested the U.S. threaten to bomb Mecca as a means “to deter them from attacking us”—claimed that the Ramadan resolution was “an example of the degree to which political correctness has captured the political and media elite … I am not opposed to commending any religion for their faith. The problem is that any attempt to do so for Jews or Christians is immediately condemned as 'breaching' the non-existent line between Church and State by the same elite."

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) likewise said he was “troubled”:

"There were a number of members who, as we call it down here, 'stayed off' that vote and did not support it because I think that they looked at it as something that Congress really should not be doing, should not be picking one faith out and commending that faith."

Garrett says during his five years in Congress he does not remember the House ever approving a resolution commending Christians for celebrating Christmas or Easter.

Garrett may not have noticed that, among other acts, the federal government marks Christmas as an official holiday every year, a recognition significantly more substantial than a symbolic House resolution imparting “respect.” Similarly, Garrett might not remember voting less than two years ago for a resolution in favor of Christmas. One can almost understand Garrett’s difficulty in making the connection, because while the Ramadan resolution is designed to encourage moderate Muslims while condemning violent ones, the purpose of that Christmas resolution was to escalate a trumped-up “war on Christmas” charade then making the rounds on the Right.

Alan Keyes Needs a Miracle 

As Alan Keyes’ quixotic vanity presidential campaign moves forward, he’s busy making the rounds at the requisite right-wing venues:

Presidential candidate Alan Keyes spoke before a crowd of students at Liberty University’s Vines Center Monday morning, saying that true victory is only found through faith in God.

Keyes, who announced his candidacy Sept. 14, said Monday he lives his life based on Christian morals, and those who believe must also persevere.

“The truth is not just about what we believe,” he said. “It’s very much about how we live and what we do.”

But no amount of speaking engagements or debate appearances is going to help him overcome this basic obstacle:

The Michigan presidential primary is set for January 15, 2008. The law requires the state Democratic and Republican Parties (the only parties entitled to a presidential primary in Michigan) to submit a list of presidential candidates by September 11, 2007.

Alan Keyes declared for the Republican nomination on September 17, 2007, too late to be included on the Republican Party’s list. Therefore, if he wants to be on the ballot, he must submit 11,569 signatures by October 23, 2007. Any registered voter can sign. The formula is one-half of 1% of the Republican presidential vote in November 2004.

Considering that, to date, only 25 people from Michigan have pledged to support Keyes’ campaign, it is unlikely that he’s going to be able to get the 11,000+ signatures necessary in less than a month.  But who knows - maybe his campaign will be able to convince the Michigan Secretary of State that his handful of committed supporters really are "worth hundreds, if not thousands, of just nominal supporters.” 

How Do You Solve a Problem at Ave Maria?

The National Law Journal reports that the "decision to move Michigan's Ave Maria School of Law to Florida has touched off a firestorm of controversy" and that "three professors have resigned, including one last week. Also, two have taken leaves of absence, and one has been suspended."

Going There: Utah Voucher Group Takes Anti-Gay Tack

For wealthy backers of publicly-funded private school vouchers, Utah has been a crucial battleground. Last year, Amway heir (and 2006 candidate for governor of Michigan) Dick DeVos and others poured a hundreds of thousands of dollars of “seed money” into a Utah PAC, Parents for Choice in Education, which set about electing state legislators who would support a voucher plan. While the group has used heavy-handed tactics before – invoking the specter of “illegal aliens” during last year’s campaign – it’s hit a new low with a recent push poll it conducted in an apparent attempt to stir up anti-gay sentiment against opponents of vouchers:

Bill Lee, a Sandy resident, earlier this week received a call he described as "pretty nasty stuff." He took notes about a portion of the survey he said asks how someone's vote would be affected knowing the same group that opposes vouchers, the "liberal national teachers' union," supports same-sex unions along with higher taxes. Parents for Choice declined to release the survey questions. …

"Many Utahns would be shocked to know the policies and positions promoted by the National Education Association, the parent organization of the UEA," [Elisa Clements, Parents for Choice’s executive director] said, referencing the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, which opposes vouchers.

The UEA's communications director described the tactic as "dirty politics." "There are absolutely no resolutions dealing with those issues that have been handled by the National Education Association," Mark Mickelsen said.

Voucher advocates see Utah’s new plan – which will face a referendum this fall – as a potential model for the rest of the nation.

Catholic League on Religious Leaders in Politics

Suppose several prominent Catholic leaders endorsed a candidate for a local office, and that candidate advertised the endorsements as a way to get the support of Catholic voters. His opponent, however, objected, calling the tactic “insulting.”

Now normally, the Catholic League would pounce on purported attempts to “silence” Catholics in politics, so one would expect Bill Donohue’s right-wing group to side with the first candidate.

But in this case, Grand Rapids, Michigan Mayor George Heartwell is pro-choice. “Even if Heartwell were Catholic and pro-life, it would smack of demagoguery for him to sell himself to Catholics in such a crass manner,” said Donohue. “But the fact that he is the darling of the pro-abortion community makes his ploy all the more despicable.”

Club for Growth President: Movement 'All About Protecting Our Christian Heritage'

In 2004 and 2006, the Club for Growth emerged as a major factor in a number of Republican primary races, specializing in challenging incumbents from the Right. The group spent millions in direct contributions and independent advertising to nearly unseat Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter in 2004 and Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee in 2006, and they succeeded in ousting Michigan Rep. Joe Schwarz. Chafee, who narrowly survived the brutal primary challenge only to lose in the general election, accused the Club of backing a hidden social agenda, but the group insisted it was strictly business, with a public focus on advocating for policies like tax cuts on investment income.

But Club for Growth President Pat Toomey struck a different chord speaking at a recent meeting of a Christian conservative group in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he said the Club continues to “scour” for right-wing challengers:

The featured speaker was former U.S. Congressman Pat Toomey, who provided the crowd with an update on the conservative movement.

Toomey lost in the primary Senate race against U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. He is also the president of the Washington-based conservative group The Club for Growth, which promotes economic freedom and raises funds for conservative candidates.

"It's all about protecting our Christian heritage," Toomey said. "And, a culture that is under assault."

Romney Hit for Porn

Adding to charges by MassResistance and others that Mitt Romney “bungled” gay marriage when he was governor of Massachusetts, the candidate is now getting grief about his business career. Romney, in his effort to secure support from social conservatives, has cited pornography as among the things he stands against, but some religious-right activists are questioning his anti-porn credentials.

Eneff is Eneff

After nine months, Janet Neff has been confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.  As we’ve chronicled here several times, Sen. Sam Brownback opposed her nomination simply because she attended the commitment ceremony of a family friend who is a lesbian back in 2002.

Over the past nine months, Brownback’s explanations as to why he was delaying her nomination, as well as the demands he made in order to let the nomination move forward, have been constantly shifting and “possibly unprecedented.”

But yesterday, with Neff scheduled to receive a vote on the Senate floor, Brownback took one last opportunity to make his opposition known: 

Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to vote against Judge Neff going onto the bench for a lifetime appointment. I have met directly with her. I have been present for two hearings where she has spoken on the controversial issue of same-sex marriage, which we all agree should be decided by legislative bodies and by the people, not by the courts. She has an activist view on this issue. She participated in a ceremony herself. Then, when asked about her view toward same-sex unions, she said she considers it a continuing legal controversy. Her words: I really don't have an understanding of it, concerning the Michigan law. In Michigan, the State has defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, both by the legislature and the people. She says it is not entirely settled. Here is an activist on a core issue, a difficult issue, one I think we all believe should be decided by legislative bodies and not by the courts. She would be one who would have a tendency to rule from the bench.

I urge my colleagues to vote against Judge Neff.

Exactly four Senators voted against Neff – all Republicans: Brownback (R-KS), Bunning (R-KY), Kyl (R-AZ), Martinez (R-FL).  

It is extraordinarily rare for any Republican to vote against any judicial nomination made by President Bush, especially to the lower-profile district court seats.  But apparently, for these four Republican Senators, anti-gay hostility runs deeper than the tradition of defending and supporting their own President’s judicial nominees.

Rudy to Get The Harriet Miers Treatment

Back in 2005, when Harriet Miers was humiliated and forced to withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court, the Republican Party’s right-wing base was largely responsible.  Having torpedoed their own president’s nominee for being insufficiently zealous regarding their social and legal agenda, the Right forced President Bush to send them someone whose ideological commitment could not be doubted, which he did by nominating Samuel Alito.  

In the face of what, initially, seemed insurmountable odds, the Right mobilized and managed to torpedo Miers’ nomination in just under a month, achieving arguably their single most significant political triumph of the entire Bush presidency to date. 

Now, heading into 2008, the Right is facing what some of them see as an even more ominous threat: the prospect that Rudy Giuliani could win the GOP presidential nomination.  And just as they did with Miers, right-wing activists - especially anti-choice Catholic ones – are gearing up to launch an all-out attack in an effort to deny Giuliani the nomination:

The Never-Ending Saga of Janet Neff

Over the last several months, we have written a series of posts on Sen. Sam Brownback’s never-ending, one-man crusade against one of President Bush’s own nominees to the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Janet Neff, simply because she attended the commitment ceremony of a family friend who is a lesbian back in 2002.  

Over the course of this mind-boggling episode, Brownback’s demands have constantly shifted.

Initially, he went to the Justice Department seeking a formal legal opinion while demanding that Neff answer various questions about her involvement in the ceremony and her views on marriage equality and civil unions.  When that didn’t satisfy him, he demanded that she recuse herself from any case dealing with these issues, but then backed down when he realized that his demand “was so unusual as to be possibly unprecedented.” 

Brownback then demanded a second hearing for Neff so that he could grill her about these issues in person, because he failed to do so at her first hearing, which he had chaired.  But he didn’t get a second hearing because even the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee noted that “there is no precedent to give a (nominee) who has passed out of committee and being considered on the floor a second hearing.”

When it looked like he was running out of options, Brownback took to the pages of The Grand Rapids Press and changed his demands once again, stating that so long as he had an opportunity to voice his opposition on the Senate floor, he would let Neff’s nomination go forward.  But shortly thereafter, he backtracked and renewed his demand for a second hearing, saying he’d let the nomination move forward so long as he had a chance to question her, again, in committee.

Then, once again he backed away from his demand for another hearing, saying he just wanted a debate on the Senate floor on her nomination and a chance for an up-or-down vote.

Well, according to Congressional Quarterly, Brownback has managed to secure his long sought-after second hearing for Neff and is once again back to threatening to block her nomination if he doesn’t like her answers:

Sen. Sam Brownback has blocked one of President Bush’s judicial nominees before, and he’s ready to do it again if he doesn’t get the right answers at a Thursday confirmation hearing.

The Kansas Republican blocked the nomination of Janet T. Neff to a Michigan federal district court seat last year because Neff once attended a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

In December, Brownback said he would stand aside if Neff promised to recuse herself from cases involving same-sex unions. But that didn’t happen and the nomination died.

Well, Neff is back. Bush renominated her in March, and Brownback still wants some answers.

He said Tuesday he wants Neff to explain the role she played at that gay couple’s commitment ceremony and that he’s interested in her views in general on the legality of gay marriage: “Let’s hear what she has to say.”

Then, he said, he’ll decide whether to block her nomination for a second time.

McCain' Floundering Outreach

Two months ago, Sen. John McCain’s campaign released this announcement:

U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential exploratory committee today announced that Marlene D. Elwell will serve as the Deputy Director of Coalitions, as well as the National Director of the Americans of Faith coalition for the Arizona Senator's exploratory committee.

Elwell was also friend and advisor to the Christian Coalition from its inception through the 1990's, lending her years of expertise to the building of the grassroots movement. She has continued working to build coalitions within the faith community. In 2004, she led the effort in Michigan to pass the state's amendment to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

"Senator McCain has a proven track record of supporting conservative causes, and is the principled voice our party and nation needs," said Elwell. "It will be my privilege to serve the Senator and communicate his message of common sense conservatism nationwide."

McCain stated that he was grateful to have the support of Elwell and looked forward to working with her. "Marlene is a highly respected conservative leader and is an important addition to my team. Her advice, counsel, and networking abilities will be instrumental in communicating my strong record of social and fiscal conservatism."

On Friday, The Washington Post reported:

In the midst of the Sen. John McCain's presidential announcement tour comes news that Marlene Elwell -- one of the Arizona Senator's leading social conservative advocates -- has parted ways with the campaign.

Elwell, who was one of McCain's chief liaisons to the faith community, confirmed her departure in a brief telephone interview this evening. She did not offer any further explanation on the decision.

Elwell, who is based in Michigan, rose to prominence in social conservatives as a leading member of Pat Robertson's campaign. She was also a prime mover in the Michigan effort to define marriage between a man and a woman that passed in 2004.

This news came just two days after the Post reported that McCain’s various past efforts to appeal to the Right were, at best, half-hearted:

[McCain's advisers] argue that it was never McCain's hope to become the darling of social and religious conservatives -- only to get enough votes among those Republicans to win the nomination. "McCain's goal wasn't to become their candidate," a campaign official said.

Elwell’s role on the McCain campaign was to “convince fellow Christian right activists that the senator is not the social moderate they think he is.”

Now she is gone.  So has McCain finally decided to stop trying to ingratiate himself with the Right, or has Elwell finally realized that McCain’s previous efforts to do so were pure political pandering?  

Right-Wing Donor Ponders What to Do If Gays Move into His New Development

The New Yorker recently profiled Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan and his plans for an ultra-orthodox community and university in southwest Florida. Monaghan has been a consistent donor to right-wing causes, such as groups like Operation Rescue and the Committee to End State-Funded Abortions in Michigan as well as anti-gay activism. He founded the Ann Arbor PAC, the Ave Maria List PAC, and the Thomas More Law Center; he sits on the board of advisors of the Catholic League; and he’s lent financial clout to presidential candidate Sam Brownback.

The New Yorker article is not available online, but it describes Monaghan’s path from pizza magnate to a philanthropist dedicated to “rescu[ing] the Catholic Church from what he saw as its slide toward apostasy,” whether by fighting Sandinistas, recruiting (via Antonin Scalia) Robert Bork to teach at a start-up law school, or building a city from scratch where, as Monaghan envisioned, “We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drugstore and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that.”

Buying a Movement?

So far, Gov. Mitt Romney has managed to win two relatively high-profile Republican straw polls, which undoubtedly help solidify his status as one of the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination.

Back in March, he won the Conservative Political Action Committee’s (CPAC) straw poll … mainly because he brought in activists specifically for this purpose:

Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, said the conference volunteers were part of a long-term effort to build grass roots support. “These volunteers are the folks who are going to be on the front lines of our campaign across the country,” he said. “The investment that we are making here is going to offer a greater result as this campaign continues to grow.”

Mr. Madden said the Romney campaign planned to have at least 225 student volunteers at the event, with 90 percent of them living close enough to eliminate the need for housing or transportation.  … All the campaigns encourage their supporters to turn out for the conference and other straw polls. But organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference said reports from students indicated that Mr. Romney’s was the only campaign providing transportation or hotel rooms. The campaign has provided small buses or vans for students from Michigan and Boston, two strongholds of support for Mr. Romney

A closer look at the numbers revealed that Romney didn’t do particularly well, but apparently the Romney campaign was pleased enough with the result to try something similar in South Carolina:

By midday Saturday, the upstate area was rife with rumors of a fixed straw poll. When I asked Sullivan, Romney's state advisor, if the campaign was paying for supporters' votes, he said, "No, absolutely not." But he admitted to recruiting people to the polls as so-called proxy delegates, which he said was a common practice among the campaigns. The campaign of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani also admitted some "friend-to-friend" recruitment of delegates, but denied paying any delegate fees. A few hours later, I tracked down Lynch, a gospel musician, at his home in Greenville.

"We were delegates of Mitt Romney, so we didn't have to pay," Lynch said. Like thousands of South Carolinians, Lynch and his wife, Melissa, have been bombarded with direct mail from the presidential candidates. He sent back a card from Romney, saying he would like to help. Sometime later, he said, Slick, the Romney aide, showed up at his door, and told him not to worry about the money. "He came over and we signed papers to be delegates, so we wouldn't have to pay the $15 fee," Lynch said. "Is there a problem?"

And again it paid off:

Among the 421 voters in Greenville County, Romney finished first with 132 votes, followed closely by Huckabee with 111. California Rep. Duncan Hunter got 87, Giuliani had 35 and Brownback received 19. McCain received 17 votes. Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo had five votes, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson got three, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore each got one. Only candidates who have established presidential exploratory committees were considered in the poll.

In Richland County, 126 delegates participated in the straw poll. Romney won with 39.7 percent of the vote. Brownback had 13.5 percent, Giuliani got 11.9 percent, and both McCain and Huckabee got 10.3 percent. Hunter got 7.9 percent and Tancredo received 3.2 percent. Cox and a write-in President Bush both received 1.6 percent.

And just as at CPAC, a closer look at the numbers suggests that while he may be winning straw polls, he is not necessarily winning over Republican voters:

About 700 people participated and awarded the candidates one, three or five points. Huckabee finished first with 3,522 points, Giuliani came in second with 3,161, followed by Hunter with 3,090 and Romney with 2,972. Brownback earned 2,931 points, Cox had 2,456 and McCain got 2,027.

Of course, perhaps these efforts by Romney and his campaign are entirely legitimate and just appear to be a bit suspicious – not unlike, say, the $25,000 he donated to the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which favorably reviewed his health-care policy, or the $25,919 his campaign paid to a company run by religious-right superlawyer Jay Sekulow, who endorsed Romney around the time that his campaign was hurting from revelations of ideological heresies in his past.

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