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Undervaluing Values Voters?

Remember "values voters," the 22 percent of people according to exit polls who said "moral values" were their most importance issue, 80 percent of whom voted for Bush? In this election, they're so far not feeling the love from the Republican front-runners. A group of social conservatives organized a forum that will take place Monday, Sept. 17 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. where candidates will take questions from conservative activists such as Phyllis Schlafly on issues like gay marriage, abortion and judicial nominees. Organizers say all the 2008 Republican candidates are coming--except, of course, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, who have cited scheduling conflicts or not yet said they would attend the event.

"We would have liked them to come, but if they have chosen not to, they have chosen that values voters are not good enough for them," said Karen Golembe, a Florida conservative activist who is leading the media outreach for the event.

The debate is unusual in that it is three hours long. But it's the subject matter itself that many candidates are avoiding discussing in public forums.

Eight years after then Governor George W. Bush declared Jesus Christ to be his favorite philosopher, the four leading Republican candidates rarely speak about their personal faith while campaigning. When Thompson was asked about his church attendance last week, he said he attends when he's home visiting his mother, but is not a regular churchgoer. Romney actually served in a leadership position in his church during the 1980's, but he doesn't focus much on his faith, possibly because many voters are not wild about Mormonism.

Romney has, however, aggressively courted religious conservatives in the early states and has a list of religious advisers and supporters on his Web site that includes Jay Sekulow, a conservative lawyer who was a liaison between conservative religious groups and the White House during the conformations process for Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts.

Though he's skipping this Florida debate, Romney will attend a event in October organized by the Family Research Council called the Values Voters Summit. He'll have company in October: both Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback are attending both "values voters" events and have spoken often about their faith while on the campaign trail.

--Perry Bacon Jr.

By Washington Post editors  |  September 14, 2007; 1:35 PM ET
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