Will Today's Election Results Herald a Christian Right Comeback?

Conservative Christian candidates are running strong in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

After last year's Democratic electoral sweep, talk was that the Christian right was dead. John McCain lost moderate voters, and GOP bosses blamed the party's religious conservative base—embodied by Sarah Palin—for scaring them off. Prominent social conservatives began to feel rejected by their usual beltway allies.

What a difference a year makes. Guess who's busy planning post-election conference calls and webcasts analyzing today's results in anticipation of good news? Conservative Christian groups.

Family Research Council Action PAC is hosting an election night analysis webcast at 8:30 this evening. The antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List (a major base of support for Palin) is advertising a conference call for reporters tomorrow on "social conservative reaction to Tuesday's election."

What are religious conservatives so excited about? All the elections receiving national coverage today—the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District—feature socially conservative candidates with decent to strong chances of winning.

In Virginia, Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell has opened up a double-digit lead in the polls. He's a graduate of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network University (since renamed Regent University); his Democratic opponent tried to use McDonnell's master's thesis from the school to paint him as a religious extremist.

In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie is neck and neck with incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, despite having been vastly outspent in a deep-blue state. Unlike the Garden State's last Republican governor, Christie is antiabortion and anti-gay marriage and has been endorsed by the Family Research Council Action PAC. Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman referred to such groups as "social fundamentalists."

In New York's special congressional election, meanwhile, conservative religious groups were key to building support for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and to pushing Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava out of the race.

If these candidates prevail, the Christian right will argue that it is integral to the GOP's revival. "In the elections taking place tomorrow in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia," the Family Research Council wrote to supporters last night, "it's no coincidence that the candidates who are espousing conservative values are the ones currently in the lead."

It's less clear whether religious conservatives can succeed with anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives in Maine and Washington State today. But the Christian right knows it can't get much of what it wants by way of policy in the age of Obama. Instead, it's trying to get the GOP to take its movement seriously again. Today's elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York may help close the deal.

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