More than 1,000 enthusiastic participants from 32 states jammed the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Fifth Annual "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, D.C., offering strong evidence that "values voters" are alive and well — and packing a political wallop in 2014.
"We're the NRA for people of faith," Faith and Freedom founder Ralph Reed told Newsmax. "We advocate sound public policy, good voter education, and strong turnout at the polls."
It was evident in the star-studded lineup of speakers at the Shoreham Hotel who addressed the activists at the June 19-21 conclave that politicians recognize the clout of the coalition.
Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, both Republican presidential prospects in 2016, spoke on the first day, along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Fox News commentator Monica Crowley. On the second day, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave pro-family remarks that drew two standing ovations.
The conference's closing night featured presidential prospect Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had a nationwide news conference two days before as he rejected the federal education program known as Common Core.
Given his previous position as head of the Christian Coalition, the first question posed inevitably to Reed is: "Is Faith and Freedom 'Christian Coalition 2.0?'"
"It's not the Christian Coalition," he told Newsmax, "because it's a different time. Faith and Freedom reflects some of the change."
Specifically, Reed noted:
"As many young people are here as ever. The average age at this conference is lower than any previous one. [Faith and Freedom] is more ethnically diverse. There is Hispanic outreach in a lot of states. In some of the states, we have a bilingual Voter Guide [to show voters how elected officials and candidates stand on family-related issues] and in others, we have a trilingual guide — English, Spanish, and Korean."
Jessica Burnett of Albany, Ga., treasurer of the College Republican chapter at Georgia State University and "a conservative who happens to be black," told Newsmax during the conference: "Republicans can make inroads into the black vote, but they have to explain the issues better and can't allow other people to define them."
She also said Republicans need to nominate more black candidates "like [South Carolina Sen.] Tim Scott, who has a great jobs bill, or [Utah U.S. House hopeful] Mia Love."
Of America's first black president, Burnett said, "Mr. Obama uses every opportunity he can to divide blacks and whites."
Along with broadening the base of the organization's membership, Reed has helped enhance its base of concerns with a variety of issues.
"It used to be said that pro-family organizations were concerned almost exclusively with abortion, gay rights, and school prayer," he said. "Although those issues are still important, we are now more broad-gauged in our concerns."
A good example, he said, is changing the tax code to increase the $500 per child tax credit to $1,000 and eventually to $2,000 and then to $4,000. Since the change would allow taxpayers to apply the credit to pretax as opposed to after-tax income and apply from birth to age 18, it would "save money for the next generation of workers and job creators and promote the family at a time of a declining birthrate," Reed said.
Another fresh issue on the Faith and Freedom agenda Reed pointed to is "the trampling of religious liberties symbolized best by the 'Hobby Lobby' case," in which an Oklahoma business is suing over the federal requirement to offer abortion-inducing contraceptives in its healthcare plan for employees.
Given Ralph Reed's near quarter-century as a top political strategist in campaigns from the presidential to the local level, it isn't long before he begins churning out key numbers and statistics to illustrate his organization's reach.
"We 'beta-tested' our voter guides online and in video form in the special election for Congress in Florida's 13th District earlier this year," he told Newsmax, referring to the nationally watched contest in which Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink.
"Email, text-messaging, and social media were used to distribute voter guides to targeted voters of faith, mostly evangelicals and faithful Roman Catholics, throughout the district. The guides were viewed a total of 403,929 times."
Reed said the Faith and Freedom database so far includes 27.5 million faith-based voters nationwide, and has cellphone numbers for 42 percent of them. With 971,000 members, Reed expects the organization to pass 1 million this fall.
"We project we will reach the 5 million member mark by 2020, and possibly sooner," he said.
The video and online voter guides are a faster read and often more effective than a handout, Reed said, and will be deployed this fall in 13 key Senate races, as well as 48 pivotal House races. In addition, they will be distributed in several tight races for governor, such as those in Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Wisconsin.
All impressive, but as the United States increasingly becomes a more secular country, is social conservatism in decline, Newsmax asked.
"I defy anyone to identify an election cycle with more candidates who have a deep and profound faith that have ever sought the presidency than this," Reed replied. "Explain to me why House and Senate Republicans have the most pro-life and pro-family leadership. And tell me why since 2010 has more legislation protecting life been enacted at the state level than in the previous 37 years since the Roe v. Wade ruling.
"In decline? I don't think so. I've never been more encouraged."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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