By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
After this month's battle between conservatives and the GOP establishment in New York's 23rd Congressional District, the big staging ground for Republican Party infighting has moved to Florida, where former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio is battling Gov. Charlie Crist in the party's U.S. Senate primary.
On the one hand, the two campaigns insist that hot-button social issues are taking a back seat to economic ones. On the other hand, Rubio's campaign has just released a long "fact-checking" memo questioning Crist's conservatism. The first six bullet points challenge the governor's claim that he's "pro-life."
Fact is, religious conservatives are playing a major role in conservative challenges to establishment Republican candidates across the country. It's the subject of my most recent God & Country column in U.S. News Weekly.
Here's the top:
For political analysts, the lesson in Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman's loss this month in a special congressional election in New York is obvious: The right overreached. After pressuring Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava out of the race with charges that she was too liberal, conservative activists watched New York's 23rd District go to a Democrat for the first time in more than a century. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had endorsed Scozzafava and warned Republicans not to "purge the party of anybody who doesn't agree with us 100 percent," appeared to be vindicated.
And yet many conservative activists are encouraged by the outcome of the race, which saw Hoffman take 46 percent of the vote. "The lesson of New York 23 is that if the Republican Party nominates people who are Republicans in name only, they are going to meet conservative opposition," says Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family Action, a conservative evangelical group. "If Scozzafava had never been nominated, the Republicans would have won." Even Gingrich has renounced Scozzafava, calling her nomination a mistake.
With an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and support from Family Research Council Action and Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, conservative Christians were among Hoffman's most active backers, rejecting Scozzofava over her support for abortion rights and gay marriage. Energized in part by their experience in New York, conservative faith-based activists are now poised to support challengers over establishment Republicans in perhaps a dozen or more GOP primaries next year, in races stretching from Florida to California. "You're going to see the largest number of competitive Republican primaries since the 1992-to-1994 period," says Reed, the former Christian Coalition chief. "It's a sign of a healthy movement."
But some GOP leaders worry that the growing number of contests between party-backed figures and conservative challengers will create fissures at a time when Republicans are trying to unify and rebuild.
Read the full thing here.