burress.jpgWriting on Tuesday’s Denver meeting among Christian Right activists, at which said activists vowed to put aside their differences with John McCain and back him in November, David Brody called it a “key turning point” for the Arizona senator. God-o-Meter, for its part, is wondering exactly how far McCain’s fortunes with nation’s conservative Christian activist set has turned. GOM checked in yesterday with Phil Burress (pictured), the Ohio-based evangelical activist whose pro-McCain speech in Denver went a long way in convincing those assembled to rally around McCain.
On the one hand, Burress was adamant in his support for the Arizona senator, telling those in Denver that the difference between the Republican nominee and Barack Obama was “wide as the Grand Canyon,” particularly on the issues conservative evangelicals care about most: the Supreme Court, marriage, abortion. Talking to God-o-Meter yesterday, Burress called the reaction to his Denver speech “overwhelming,”
But Burress’s report included more sobering news for McCain, too. First, he said that it’s essential that McCain do more to excite the GOP’s evangelical base. “There’s no question that the ship is turning, but we can’t turn it all the way ourselves,” Burress said, assessing the state of conservative Christian support for McCain. “[McCain] has to put his hand on the wheel.”
Secondly, Burress said that McCain’s veep selection will have a huge bearing on his level of evangelical support: “he’s going to lose 40-percent of us if he doesn’t pick the right VP.” According to the activists Burress is in touch with, acceptable running mates include former presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter, Bush White House veteran Rob Portman, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
What about Mitt Romney or Florida Gov. Charlie Crist? “In the meetings I’ve been in with people batting names around, neither of those names were mentioned,” Burress says.
A third warning for McCain: the Denver meeting was all about political pragmatism, as opposed to revealing a genuine or growing warmth for the senator. “This is the point that was made: it’s not about McCain,” Burress said. “It’s about the country.”
Can Christian Right leaders use such a a practical argument to urge evangelicals to the polls for McCain, even though they lack the natural affinity for him that they felt so deeply with George W. Bush? Many of those at the Denver meeting say yes. “I think evangelical leaders will be able to ‘sell’ this pragmatic argument–support McCain because of important issues,” says Charisma magazine publisher Steve Strang, who attended the Denver confab. “It will help, of course, if McCain steps up outreach to evangelicals and speaking up more on social issues. But most will support him regardless.”
God-o-Meter doesn’t disagree. It’s a forgone conclusion that most evangelicals will back McCain. But recent presidential elections have been won or lost at the margins. So the question is not whether a majority of evangelicals pull the lever for McCain. It’s whether a big enough minority will pull the lever for Obama–or not pull the lever at all.


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