For GOP evangelicals, Bachmann talks the talk

June 6, 2011

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour warned several hundred Christian
conservatives gathered in Washington recently not to expect a "perfect
candidate" to emerge from the field of Republican presidential
contenders. "There's only been one perfect person that ever walked on
this earth," Barbour said, sounding as much like a preacher as a
politician. "And there ain't gonna be another one in this election."

None
of the half dozen or so rivals for the GOP nomination who addressed the
June 3–4 Faith and Freedom Coalition conference walked on water, of
course. But for many of the fiscal and social conservatives assembled by
Ralph Reed's new group, one candidate seemed to rise above the rest.

"I
am here to support Michele Bachmann," said Phil Dacosta, a 42-year-old
Southern Baptist from Atlanta. "I don't care about anyone else."

Dacosta
called himself heartbroken that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee
won't run for president this year. As Huckabee's campaign coordinator in
Georgia, Dacosta helped the former governor win his state's GOP primary
in 2008, one of eight states Huckabee took that year with strong
support from conservative Christians.

But with Huckabee out,
Dacosta said he's confident that fellow evangelicals will turn their
eyes and organizing power to Bachmann, a three-term congresswoman from
Minnesota. "She comes from us, not to us," said Dacosta, an industrial
engineer and passionate political activist. "She speaks our code, and we
believe her."

Dacosta was hardly the only Bach­mann believer at
the Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting. A Tea Party favorite who is
also popular among conservative Chris­tians, the Minnesota congresswoman
is expected to announce her political intentions later in June in her
native state of Iowa.

The Washington gathering also signaled
continuing difficulty in putative front-runner Mitt Romney's quest to
engage conservative Christians.

Harold White, a 62-year-old former
train conductor who lives in Marietta, Georgia, said negative stories
about Romney's Mormon faith have been making the rounds on his local Tea
Party listserv. "We are moving away from Romney and Huntsman," said
White, referring to former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is also Mormon.
"Their Mormon beliefs are just so different from Christianity."

Bachmann,
on the other hand, seems poised to make a strong run among Christian
conservatives, who constitute a quarter of the general electorate and an
even greater percentage of GOP primary voters. At an April gathering at
the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty Univer­sity, Bachmann won the straw
poll with 23 percent of the vote, besting even Huck­abee, a former
Southern Baptist pastor.

Addressing the crowd on June 3, Bachmann
drew several loud ovations as she recounted her efforts to ban gay
marriage in Minnesota, repeal the new health care law and defund Planned
Parenthood.

She also denounced President Obama's "shocking"
policy toward Israel and described her family's struggle to homeschool
her five biological children and raise 23 foster children. Finally,
Bach­mann lowered her head and led the crowd in a two-minute prayer,
including a supplication that "Father God, we want all men to come to
know you."

Asked why he attended the Wash­ington gathering, Bruce
Nave, a politically active industrial contractor from Phoenix, said,
"Michele pretty much summed it up."

"She is talking about our
issues," said Nave, 58. "Our government is getting out of control, and
we are not going to be silent anymore."

Like many at the
Washington gathering, Nave described himself as both an ardent
evangelical and proud Tea Party member. The Faith and Freedom Coalition,
founded by veteran GOP activist Ralph Reed, represents the "perfect
synergy" of the two conservative and politically active groups, Nave
said.

Reed said on June 3 that his group aims to train volunteers
to reach 17 million evangelical voters who were not registered or did
not vote in 2008.

"We are going to teach you some basic
fundamentals," he said, "so you can go back to your states and
communities not only [to] be able to execute these plays and run this
system, but also execute the biggest victory ever seen in American
history."

Aileen Milton, 59, said Reed delivered a presentation
earlier this year about his fledgling group to her Tea Party cohort in
The Villages, a sprawling retirement community in Florida.

Wearing
a button advocating "fair taxes" in Florida, Milton said she cares
deeply about issues like abortion but is more concerned with the economy
and with defeating Obama in 2012. "The country is moving in the wrong
direction," she said, "It is becoming socialist."  —RNS