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