Champion the Vote, a project of United In Purpose, a Silicon Valley-based conservative group dedicated to registering millions of Christian voters in time for the 2012 elections, has produced a new video that features a number of religious right notables, but only one Republican Party presidential hopeful: Newt Gingrich.
Is Gingrich on his way to getting the Christian conservative stamp of approval?
"While conventional wisdom holds that Texas Governor Rick Perry is the candidate of choice for the hard evangelical right and the increasingly influential but poorly understood New Apostolic Reformation, some new evidence indicates otherwise," Talk2Action co-founder Bruce Wilson recently told me in an email. In fact, says Wilson, evangelicals may be lining up behind Gingrich, who has risen rapidly and is now number one or two in most polls.
To chart Perry's fall and Gingrich's rise, one needs to go back to last summer and the Religio-palooza called The Response. Initiated by Perry and staged by a number of Religious Right organizations including the American Family Association, The Response was apparently such a success that it is hitting the road, with a first stop scheduled for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on December 6.
According to The Response website, "America's issues are not primarily financial, political or moral. Neither does America's hope lie in one leader or institution. Our hope is found in the One who desires for us to turn to Him with all our hearts. This is our response -- to call on Jesus on behalf of America, that He might hear our cry and that we would see a revolution of righteousness in this country."
To create this "revolution of righteousness," The Response plans to hold "state-wide assemblies to gather people from all ages, denominations and backgrounds in prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation." The first stop on The Response Tour is set for Iowa, a month or so prior to that state's presidential caucuses. Other Response events are set for South Carolina, Florida and Arizona.
The Response website clearly points out that these will not be Rick Perry-support meetings: "Though Governor Rick Perry initiated The Response in Houston," the website notes, "these upcoming state-wide gatherings will not be affiliated with any particular presidential candidates. The Response is committed to prayer above politics, to seeing the church moved to stand for righteousness and to pray for God's mercy for America."
Although these Response events may not be Perry-centric, the participation of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association appears to be critical. Religion Dispatches' Sarah Posner recently reported that "The mailing list from the August Response is being used by the AFA to send voters information about Champion the Vote, a project of the non-profit group United in Purpose," which, according to the L.A. Times, "is using sophisticated data-mining techniques to compile a database of every unregistered born-again and evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic in the country."
"If you're passionate about America and about God's Word, if you long to see our nation return to the timeless truth of a Biblical worldview, if you're willing to be on the frontlines and speak out to mobilize others to act -- if you have as little as one hour a week to volunteer -- become a Champion!", Champions for Life spells out to its website visitors. Champion issues include: "Right to life, Religious freedom, Traditional marriage, God and government, Morality and ethics, Voter registration, and Prayer in the public arena."
As reported in late September, United in Purpose was founded by Silicon Valley venture capitalists Bill Dallas and Reid Rutherford. It aims to register many millions of conservative Christian voters in time for the 2012 elections.
United in Purpose has a Facebook page. An entry, dated September 15, touts the November 12 premiere of a video titled "One Nation Under God" at house parties across the nation. According to People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch, the video features David Barton, Newt Gingrich, James Dobson, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Lila Rose, and others "talking about the importance of keeping America 'one nation under God'."
While there aren't any reports on UIP's Facebook page regarding how the house parties went, a website called American Decency, an organization which appears to be in relationship with the American Family Association and has a mailing address of Fremont, Michigan, reported that its "One Nation, Under God" event "was a huge success." (American Decency is offering the video for free: "All we ask for is the cost of shipping and handling of a modest $3.00.")
"There were several speakers on the DVD, and each of them had two responsibilities. First, to make sure that they established the idea that America is a Christian nation and that Judeo-Christian principles are to be inculcated into government. Second, the goal was to convince Christians that they should be politically involved, vote their values and encourage other Christians that they should do the same."
Talk2Action co-founder Bruce Wilson believes that the United in Purpose video is geared towards promoting the candidacy of Newt Gingrich.
"The only 2012 presidential candidate featured in the 'One Nation, Under God' video is Newt Gingrich," Wilson pointed out. "This suggests that power centers and leaders on the evangelical right may be aligning behind Gingrich."
The video "features interviews with some of the same key figures listed as honorary co-chairs of Rick Perry's The Response prayer rally last August - notably James Dobson and Samuel Rodriguez - but now Gingrich seems to be the favored candidate. The video also includes former Republican congressman Bob McEwen reminiscing on how Newt Gingrich led the 1994 Republican takeover of the US House and Senate, and it could be interpreted almost as an infomercial for Gingrich's presidential bid."
Wilson noted that while Gingrich "raised eyebrows with his challenge to the Republican Party's increasingly severe immigration policies, his rhetoric aligns nicely with a strategy... by conservative evangelicals to aggressively reach out to African-American, Hispanic and other minority evangelical groups. Gingrich's new stance may be controversial within the GOP but it positions Gingrich well for the general election."
In fact, says Wilson, "Gingrich may offer the best hope for anti-Mormon conservative evangelicals to [stop Romney and] put up [their own] candidate against Barack Obama in the 2012 election."
Bill Berkowitz is a Bay Area freelance writer who has been monitoring and reporting on right-wing movements for over 10 years. This is his first piece for OfftheBus. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to the Huffington Post's coverage of American political life, please contact us at www.offthebus.org.