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Can social conservatives join up with the 'tea party'?

At the Values Voter Summit this weekend, traditional social conservatives hope to tap into tea party fervor. Some GOP presidential hopefuls are there to show their stuff for a straw poll.

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High point of the summit is Saturday’s presidential straw poll. On the ballot last year were Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. Huckabee led the pack with 28 percent of the vote. Romney, Pawlenty, Palin, and Pence each got about 12 percent.

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Notable by her absence at the Values Voter Summit this year is Sarah Palin. She’ll be part of the straw poll Saturday, but she had more pressing (presidential?) things going on. She’s the keynote speaker Friday night at the Iowa Republican Party’s “Ronald Reagan Dinner.” Iowa, of course, holds its presidential caucus early in the campaign year.

From the left, the Values Voter Summit is being tracked real-time by People for the American Way’s “Rightwing Watch.”

In particular, PFAW launched a preemptive strike in the form of a letter to seven prominent conservative speakers urging them to “denounce” statements by Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association’s director of issue analysis.

Mr. Fischer, another summit speaker (whose organization is one of the event's sponsors), is known for making controversial – some would say outrageous – statements about gays and Muslims. (He has said Muslims should not be allowed to serve in the US armed forces.)

“By sharing a stage with Fischer, public figures like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Mike Pence, Bob McDonnell, and Michele Bachmann don’t necessarily endorse Fischer’s shameless anti-Muslim and anti-gay propaganda – but they do acknowledge its credibility,” said PFAW president Michael Keegan in a statement. “Any candidate thinking seriously of running for president in 2012 should think twice about standing alongside [Fischer].”

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