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Social conservatives sense a change in the political weather, say shift bodes ill for Obama

November 4, 2009 | 12:39 pm

Tuesday was a good day for social and religious conservatives, who haven’t had many of those in the year since Barack Obama was elected president.

But with Republican victories in the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, and the passing of Maine’s ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, they are feeling -- to paraphrase President George W. Bush after his 2004 reelection -- the wind of the American people at their back.

“We are a nation moving in a conservative direction,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports anti-abortion candidates.

“Last November when Barack Obama won, there was a sense that there had been a dramatic shift to the left,” said Gary Bauer, the Christian conservative who is president of the political action committee Campaign for Working Families. “I think we saw yesterday, it’s not 2008 anymore. There wasn’t a big ideological shift; this is still a center-right country.”

Bauer and Dannenfelser were joined on a conference call by Brian Brown, director of the National Organization for Marriage, who was celebrating in Portland, Maine, after an effort to legalize same-sex marriage there went down to an unexpectedly lopsided defeat.

After California voters outlawed gay marriage last year, Maine was viewed as an important, and potentially game-changing, battleground for the same-sex marriage movement. After all, Mainers are considered independent, tolerant of differences and eager to keep government out of their bedrooms. A win there would have gone far to support the contention by gay rights advocates that it’s just a matter of time before the country accepts the notion that gays should be allowed to marry.

But voters have now defeated gay marriage in 31 states -- gay activists' only victories have been in the courts and legislatures -- and social conservatives believe they can snuff out what had started to become conventional wisdom about the inevitability of same-sex marriage.

“It’s a crushing blow to those who think same-sex marriage is inevitable,” Brown said. “They were 100% wrong…In a deep blue state, when voters had the chance, they voted to protect marriage for a man and a woman.”

The conservative leaders said from this point on, they are expecting the Republican Party establishment to shape up and get with their program.

They will not tolerate any more races like the closely watched contest in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, where Republican Party officials chose a pro-gay-marriage, pro-abortion-rights candidate, Dede Scozzafava, to run against Democrat Bill Owens, who opposes gay marriage. When it became clear that grass-roots Republicans who were turned off by their own candidate would support a third-party candidate -- Doug Hoffman of the Conservative Party -- Scozzafava dropped out and endorsed the Democrat, who won. (If Tuesday’s contests were a harbinger of bad things to come for Democrats in 2010, then perhaps the New York race could be interpreted as a slap at former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who campaigned for Hoffman with the not-so-catchy slogan, “Hoffman, baby, Hoffman.")

“If we had had a candidate who was principled in terms of embracing Republican platform, we would see a Republican being sworn in,” Dannenfelser said. “The real power of the Republican Party is in a burgeoning, grass-roots movement that is very conservative, and the more out of touch they are with their natural base, the more they will lose. If we have to have that conversation in a high-profile way, so be it.”

Though the White House has downplayed the notions that Tuesday’s races were any sort of referendum on the president’s policies, Bauer is convinced that trouble looms:

“I think the results yesterday are going to make it harder for all the initiatives that are unpassed -- whether healthcare or cap-and-trade and soon-to-come tax increases. Those will be more dicey for the White House and congressional leadership. If you are a red state senator or congressman, there is a lot of second-guessing going on about whether they want to go further out on the limb of voting for these incredible bills. …That’s why people who voted for Barack Obama last year voted Republican yesterday.”

-- Robin Abcarian

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