NEW YORK, Sept. 19--Paul Weyrich, the Washington activist who pretty muchinvented the Religious Right, could hardly believe his ears.
"My own mother, a former Protestant and now a very traditionalCatholic, was raving about Lieberman, saying, 'Isn't this fantastic?'" hesays.
Others in the renowned conservative's devoutly Catholic family weretelling the shocked strategist that Joe Lieberman hung the moon.
"They have been told for so long that they had to know their place, toget back into the corner and be quiet," Weyrich says. "Here comes this guymentioning God with every other word, and they're just so excited by it thatthey overlook a lot."
Weyrich reminded his kinfolk that Lieberman talks a good game, but hasvoted to uphold partial-birth abortion, for gay-rights initiatives andagainst many other policies consistent with moral conservatism.
They came around. But as he has traveled around the country thiselection season, Weyrich is finding many religious voters who have losttheir hearts--and their heads--to Lieberman, a publicly pious observantJew.
"It's been extraordinary," he says. "My breath is taken away by thethings people tell me."
There are no polls showing how the Christian vote is shaping up. Butsince naming Lieberman his running mate, several polls have shown Goreovertaking Bush on moral issues.
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg provided the battle plan in anAmerican Prospect article earlier this year. He wrote that Democrats, whohave the public's trust on economic issues, should not concede moralconcerns to the Republicans.
Voters, he wrote, "are drawn to Democrats who respect the public'sreligious faith and belief in personal responsibility and who understand therange of economic and social forces undermining parents.
"A family-centered progressive discourse on values would free voters torespond to Democrats on the social and economic issues on which Democratsnow have a presumptive advantage. Such a discourse could alter the balanceof power in the country."
Enter Lieberman, praising God from the religious left, and joining hisTipper-kissing running mate in populist attacks on so-called "powerfulinterests"--like the entertainment industry--that undermine families.
It's all talk. A record-industry exec tells me the industry understandsGore has to attack them to get elected, and it'll be business as usual afterNovember.
And the long face Lieberman pulls when faced with issues of moralconcern belies a liberal voting record that wouldn't trouble the most ardentsecularist. Pundit and author Cal Thomas accurately describes Lieberman'sGod-talk as "religiosity, not religion."
But former Christian Coalition strategist Marshall Wittmann points outthat what brought many Evangelicals into politics to begin with was notconcern about specific issues, but anger over the way faith was mistreated.
"Lieberman has brought a patina of faith and values to the DemocraticParty that has been absent in the past," says Wittman.
Team Bush wasn't expecting it. And they still haven't figured out howto deal with it.
"What this has done is absolutely undermined their endgame," saysWeyrich. "They had hoped to paint the picture of the Gore ticket as hostileto traditional values."
The Bushies didn't talk about these things at the GOP convention, andstill aren't really talking about them.
"If there is perceived to be little difference between the two oncultural issues, and it gets down to economics, the Democrats are going toseem more sympathetic," says former GOP contender Gary Bauer.
Religious-right leaders have bet their hopes for the resurrection oftheir foundering organizations on a Bush victory. That's why theyuncritically embraced him, and have agreed to stay quiet and let him winthis thing.
Well, he's losing. So what will happen among their ranks if Goretriumphs? One strategist is very blunt: "Armageddon."