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Candidates in Tuesdays primary hope values, social issues lead to victory
All of the candidates on ballot are anti-abortion
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Voter's guide

When: Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday. However, any voter who is waiting in line to vote at closing time will be allowed to vote. At the elections office, you must fill out an application and provide one of the permitted forms of identification. You will then be issued a ballot that must be filled out and cast while you are in the office.

Where to vote: Votes are conducted at county voting precincts. For a list of precincts and office contacts, visit gainesvilletimes.com/wethepeople.

Voter ID: Required forms of photo ID include the following: a valid Georgia driver's license; a valid voter ID card or other valid ID card issued by the state or U.S. government; a valid U.S. passport; a valid government employee ID card with photograph; a valid military ID card with photograph; a valid tribal ID card with photograph

Calendar

May 23-25: Qualifying for state primary election
July 2: Deadline to register to vote in July 31 primary
July 9: Early voting begins for general primary.
July 31: General primary
Oct. 9: Deadline to register for Nov. 6 general election
Oct. 15: Early voting begins for general election
Nov. 6: General election

 

With their eyes set on Super Tuesday votes, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum each rallied Georgia's faith-based community at First Redeemer Church in Cumming.

Their choice of venue comes as no surprise to leaders of evangelical groups, who say the candidates are going where the people are.

Of the 10 states voting in primaries Tuesday, Georgia has the most delegates to be swayed, 76. And by some estimates, about 6 out of 10 Republican voters who will visit Georgia polling locations will consider themselves a "born again" evangelical.

The group's role in politics has been key in Republican elections since the mid-1990s, when the Christian Coalition began distributing its voter guides in churches, University of Georgia Political Scientist Charles Bullock said.

But after being largely absent from the 2008 Republican race, social issues are back on the agenda this year.

If you ask Gary Marx, executive director of Ralph Reed's Duluth-based Faith and Freedom Coalition, Democratic President Barack Obama is the reason for that trend.

"You've seen (an) explosion with President Obama's seeming war on religion, and war on religious freedom," said Marx.

Marx cites the Obama administration's policy that mandates insurance providers to cover contraception for employees at religious institutions. Obama's approach to Israel, too, has concerned evangelicals, Marx said.

"That spark, I think, ignited a firestorm and brought social issues into the debate much more so than they had been," he said.

Even without those hot-button issues at the forefront, appearances by Santorum and Gingrich at First Redeemer put them in a setting where they can "specifically address that audience," Marx said.

Gingrich takes on ‘baggage'
Gingrich's appearance, in Marx's opinion, was an important move meant to "clear the deck" about his past.

Already, members of the Georgia Christian Coalition have come out in opposition of his bid "because of the baggage he carries," according to executive director Jerry Luquire.

Gingrich, a former congressman from metro Atlanta, is expected to take his home state Tuesday.

But reports of Gingrich's infidelity and failed marriages have hurt his standing among religious groups.

The Christian Coalition doesn't make endorsements. Still, Luquire calls the state's likely support of Gingrich an "error," hinting at his personal issues and Luquire's belief that Gingrich isn't electable.

Luquire says he favors another candidate because of his "pro family" values. Still, he doesn't fault other candidates' family values — except for Gingrich's.

"I think that Mr. Gingrich's personal history speaks for itself on that issue," Luquire said.

It's precisely why Marx said Gingrich needed to make a showing in First Redeemer last month, to send the message that "he is not a perfect man, he's been forgiven and he recognizes the mistakes he's made," Marx said.

Georgia Republicans have, in the past, supported social conservatives.

In 2008, even when social issues didn't dominate the campaign, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and pastor, took a narrow victory in the Georgia primary.

"We know these things kind of play to a certain audience within Georgia," Bullock said. "We've seen that in statewide races — whether or not a person gets the endorsement of Georgia Right to Life or not — and Santorum has played this same kind of card, not just in Georgia but around the nation."

All of the candidates on Tuesday's GOP ballot are anti-abortion. Yet Santorum seems to be the most vocal on the federal government's role in topics like abortion and gay marriage, Bullock said.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul has expressed a belief that legalizing or banning abortion should not be the federal government's decision.

Gingrich also hasn't advocated for a constitutional ban on abortions. However, his platform calls for conservative judges and demonstrates an opposition to subsidies for abortions.

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney believes states should decide their own abortion laws, and has said the Roe v. Wade decision should be reversed by a future Supreme Court.

Santorum, on the other hand, is against legalized abortion, even in a case of rape or incest. He opposes same-sex marriage to the point that he's made statements in the past that seem to equate homosexuality to polygamy and incest.

Taking a stance beyond the other Republicans in the race, Santorum warns of the dangers of prenatal testing and is personally against manufactured contraceptives because, he says, they are a contributor to the breakdown of the traditional American family.

New view of Catholics
Luquire, of the Georgia Christian Coalition, is urging his friends to support Santorum. He cites what he says are Santorum's "pro family" values, calling the former Pennsylvania senator "an excellent husband and an excellent father."

But unlike most candidates Southern evangelicals have supported in the past, Santorum is a Catholic, as is Gingrich.

Fifty two years ago, Southern Baptists were suspicious of whether John F. Kennedy would be able to separate his public policy from church leadership, Bullock said.

"One might, even though one was probably a Democrat at that point in the South, might have to think long and hard about whether he could vote for a Catholic for president," Bullock said.

Catholics and evangelicals' views on public policy might be more equitable today, Bullock said.

But Santorum's decision to rally at First Redeemer might have been a gentle reminder to Deep South voters that he is, in essence, one of them, Marx said.

"For him to come to the heartland of the South and speak to an evangelical church, it was an opportunity for him to show what a lot of people have known all along nationally. While he is Catholic, Time magazine named him as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals," Marx said.

These are the values that might put Santorum ahead of Romney in Georgia's primary, but may "handicap him" if he actually becomes the party's nominee and needs to reach out to voters in the middle, Bullock said.

"Those individuals who are likely to vote in the primary tend to be more extreme than the many voters.." said Bullock. "The problem for candidates who are in a competitive primary situation is that they may shift their appeal to a more extreme position because a lot of their primary voters are there, that can then handicap them when they try to reach into that middle ground."

And if a candidate can only mobilize the voters of his party, Bullock said he has no chance at winning in November.

The Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.

 

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