Perkins: Palin a brilliant political pick

But head of the Family Research Council said social conservatives’ enthusiasm for the Alaska governor may not be enough to win in ’08.

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Social conservatives are pleased with John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. But “values” voters are increasingly independent and still wary about the Republican presidential candidate himself.

That was the assessment of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters on Wednesday.

Mr. Perkin’s group is about to host several thousand conservatives at its Values Voters Summit here in Washington. The group describes itself as championing “marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society.” The Nation magazine, no fan, has described the organization as “the Christian right lobbying powerhouse.”

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Perkins said McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Palin was “a brilliant pick, from a political standpoint.” Perkins said McCain “has shown through this process that he is listening, maybe he is not looking, but he is listening.”

Many religious conservatives disagree with McCain’s support of research using embryonic stem cells and his decision to vote against bringing the federal marriage amendment – which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman – to the Senate floor, among other issues. “He was uncomfortable addressing the social issues and clearly he selected a running mate that is comfortable with those issues,” Perkins said.

The Family Research Council executive said he had been active in lobbying against having either Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman or former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as McCain’s running mate. Both are pro-choice on the issue of abortion.
In a warning to the Republican Party, Perkins stressed, “Increasingly, social conservatives, orthodox Christian voters, whatever you want to call them, are becoming more independent. They are not attached and tethered to the Republican Party. And I think this election cycle showed this, because they were not flocking to the McCain campaign simply because he was a Republican.”

Palin played a key role in winning social conservatives’ support for McCain, Perkins said. “It wasn’t until he selected a running mate that they felt like [he] identified with them…. There is excitement, there is enthusiasm but I don’t think they are completely sold just yet. I still think you are seeing this growing streak of independence which I think is a healthy thing.”

Republican voter enthusiasm for Alaska’s governor will not be enough to land the GOP ticket in the White House, Perkins said. “We are very late in the process and even though there is enthusiasm now, to think that this is a wave that the campaign could successfully ride into Election Day I think would be a false assumption.” He added that the McCain campaign lacks an “intensive ground game” in key states.

Social conservatives would like Palin to have an activist role in any McCain administration. “She compliments what many conservatives see as weaknesses in John McCain,” Perkins said. The spokesman for the religious right said he hoped that Palin “would be a very engaged vice president and not pushed off to a back room somewhere and just brought out for tea parties but [that] she is there as an active partner and participant.”

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