GOP weighs economy, social issues in planning for elections

At the 'Values Voter Summit,' social conservatives heard from GOP presidential hopefuls. With the tea party insurgency swirling around them, they have to weigh economic and social issues.

By , Staff writer

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    Rep. Mike Pence, (R) of Indiana, speaks at the "Remember in November" tea party rally in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 12. Pence won the GOP presidential straw poll held at the conservative Values Voter Summit Saturday, Sept. 18.
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It was a miniscule number of voters in just one slice of the US political spectrum, but a weekend straw poll gives insight into how Republican hopefuls stack up for the 2012 presidential race.

On Saturday, at least, social conservatives within the GOP favored Rep. Mike Pence. The Indiana lawmaker won 24 percent of the 723 votes cast, just ahead of last year’s winner, Mike Huckabee, who drew 22 percent. Farther back in the back were Mitt Romney (13 percent), Newt Gingrich (10 percent), and Sarah Palin (7 percent).

"I am a Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order," Pence told some 2,000 people at the two-day Values Voter Summit in Washington, an annual affair whose lead sponsor is the conservative Family Research Council, for whom social issues are a prominent focus. Those at the summit named abortion, government spending, and the repeal of President Obama's health care reform as their top issues.

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Depending upon how those tea leaves are read, there can be two conclusions: That this socially conservative GOP base is not exactly in line with the tea party insurgency shaking up the political scene. (Many libertarians are pro-choice on abortion.) Or that looking at the list of recent winners in Republican primaries – most recently Christine O’Donnell in Delaware – social conservatives can easily ride the tea party wave.

O’Donnell was one of the main stars at the event, having just beat establishment favorite Rep. Michael Castle in the Republican primary to fill the US senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden.

To thunderous applause and multiple standing ovations, she said of the conservative insurgency’s skeptics and critics, "They don't get it. We're not trying to take back our country. We are our country."

Sarah Palin, to whom O’Donnell has been likened in style, may have been down in the straw poll because she was not there. Instead, she was the keynote speaker at the Iowa Republican Party’s “Ronald Reagan Dinner,” where she made teasing jokes about running in 2012.

In his speech to social conservatives, Romney emphasized the economy.

“Since the Obama stimulus was passed, 127,000 government jobs have been created, but more than 2.4 million private sector jobs have been lost,” he said. “There are now nearly 15 million Americans that are out of work: if they stood in a single unemployment line, it would stretch from the coast of California to Washington D.C. and then back again! If that's their vaunted 'recovery summer,' heaven help us from their recovery winter!”

Two years before the next presidential election, stressing the economy is a political calculation and campaign strategy favored by the Republican establishment.

“Any issue that takes peoples eye off of unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking your eye off the ball,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, chair of the Republican Governors Association, said at a recent Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters.

But to those who say the GOP needs to downplay social issues in the 2010 and 2012 elections, conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly says, “That's not only wrong, that's dumb because we need the social conservatives as well as the fiscal conservatives to take those seats in November.”

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