Reuters : Palin brings God, guns to Republican ticket

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin brings God, guns to Republican ticket

Analysis by Ed Stoddard | August 30, 2008

DALLAS (Reuters) - Conservative Republican prayers for the November 4 presidential election may have been answered.

John McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate sends a clear message to the party's conservative religious base: God and guns are on the ticket.

Conservative Christians and analysts say the 44-year-old devout born-again evangelical and mother of five has the "right stuff" to energize this base, from her staunch opposition to abortion to her passion for hunting and fishing.

She has a compelling personal narrative for religious conservatives capped by the fact that she opted to have her fifth child even though she knew he would have Down's syndrome -- making her a darling of the anti-abortion movement.

These credentials have been added to the Republican ticket at a time when polls show McCain, a 72-year-old veteran senator from Arizona, gaining ground with the white evangelical Protestants who are key to Republican electoral success.

McCain and Palin will face Democrat Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, and polls show a close race. Obama would be the first black president if elected, Palin the first female vice president.

Despite his consistent opposition to abortion and attendance at an evangelical church, McCain has been criticized in conservative Christian circles for his support for stem cell research and his failure to back a federal ban on gay marriage, among other issues.

"It's a strategically brilliant development for McCain. He ... desperately needed to woo evangelical voters," said Michael Lindsay, a political sociologist at Rice University in Houston and leading expert on U.S. evangelicals. "No Republican has captured the White House in modern history without their support."

About one in four U.S. adults count themselves as evangelical Protestants. The vast majority regard the Bible as God's literal word and take their faith very seriously.

The movement has been fracturing as some leaders broaden their agenda to embrace "liberal" issues such as protecting the environment but many evangelicals still care deeply about abortion and gay rights, which they ardently oppose.


Conservative Christians said they were excited by her addition to the ticket.

"Governor Palin is an outspoken advocate for pro-family policies that energize social conservatives. She has a record of advancing the culture of life at every opportunity," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobby group with strong evangelical ties.

"Senator McCain made an outstanding pick ... She's solid on all the core social issues," he told Reuters.

There had been concern among evangelicals that McCain would choose an abortion rights supporter like former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge or Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate in a bid to appeal to moderate voters.

Palin's status as a "working mom," whose children range in age from 5 months to 18 years, could be one drawback in the eyes of some conservative U.S. Christians who strongly believe that a mother's place is in the home. But others give her credit for being a devoted mother who they say has been able to balance career and family.

"I have five kids too and I think it is exciting when you see someone who is working actively to make her family a part of her mission," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life Action, an anti-abortion group.

"And her decision to have her child when she knew he had Down's syndrome is a beautiful, beautiful story," Yoest said.

Palin also can help the Republicans target gun owners. She is a member of the National Rifle Association, a lobby group opposed to government restrictions on the ownership of firearms, which it regards as a sacred American right.

"God and guns" often mix in the U.S. heartland. A U.S. survey of licensed hunters and anglers in 2006, commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, found half of those polled identified themselves as evangelical Christians.

(Additional reporting by Yareth Rosen in Anchorage)

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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