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'Values Voters' unite in opposition to Hillary Clinton (+video)

The former first lady hasn't yet announced her presidential candidacy, but conservatives attending the annual Values Voters Summit this weekend held up Hillary Clinton as the Democrat to beat.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the one figure uniting US religious conservatives frustrated by a leaderless Republican Party that's divided over foreign policy, immigration and social issues.

The prospect of another Clinton White House stirred anguish at the Values Voter Summit this weekend where hundreds of conservative activists debated the Republican Party's future and warned that the acknowledged but unannounced 2016 Democratic front-runner would cement what they see as President Barack Obama's attack on religious freedom.

"Never forget she will be Barack Obama's third and fourth term as president of the United States," Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate in 2012, said Friday night.

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She was among the high-profile Republicans, including past and prospective White House contenders, at the annual conference attended by some of the most prominent social conservatives and hosted by the Family Research Council, well known for its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

This year's gathering expanded its focus to religious freedom – or the persecution of Christians and their valuesat home and abroad. It was a message that Republican officials hope will help unify a fractured party and appeal to new voters ahead of November's elections and the next presidential contest.

But it was Clinton's name that was as much a rallying cry as the theme of religious liberty.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a prospective presidential candidate, challenged Clinton to "spend a day debating" the Denver nuns who run nursing homes for the poor, called the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, and have challenged the Obama health law's requirement that some religious-affiliated organizations provide insurance that includes birth control.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a once and perhaps future contender, described Clinton as "tenacious."

"She's got all the skills and would be an incredibly formidable candidate," Huckabee told reporters, suggesting that Clinton is politically vulnerable. "She's got to go out and defend Barack Obama and her record in the first four years she was secretary of state."

Clinton would be the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, while the Republican's field is large and lacks a clear front-runner. Two Republican establishment favorites, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, were not invited to the conference.

As he did last year, Cruz won the summit's symbolic presidential preference straw poll with 25 percent of the vote, followed by conservative firebrand Ben Carson and Huckabee.

Cruz warned attendees that these are "dangerous, extreme, and radical times" and labeled the Democratic party "an extreme and radical party," The Washington Post reports.

Clinton earned one vote among more than 900 cast, although Family Research Council president Tony Perkins joked that even Mickey Mouse would have gotten a vote if listed on the ballot.

He said religious liberty "slipped as a priority" under Clinton's leadership at the State Department as she pursued a liberal agenda "in complete contrast to what values voters care about."

"She's going to have a more difficult time this go around than she did last time," Perkins said.

A CNN poll this summer found that four different would-be Republican candidates earned between 10 percent and 15 percent of support from self-identified conservatives: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Cruz and Huckabee. The same poll found that 73 percent of conservatives said Clinton doesn't generally agree with them on issues they care about.

Lillian Kjellman, a first year student at Liberty University who attended the conference, said there was too much controversy surrounding Clinton and questioned whether she could to present a fresh message to the public after more than two decades in the public eye.

"I don't think she could win," she said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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