The presence of conservative Christians sends New York Times political reporters into labeling overload, and that’s where Erik Eckholm could be found Saturday, “Evangelicals Step Up Efforts to United on an Alternative to Romney.”
Eleven conservative labels were crammed into Eckholm’s 1,100-word story, not including three more in the photo captions and one in quoted material, and a “religious right” reference in the text for good measure. By contrast, in January 2008 the Times was reluctant to call even uber-liberal pols like Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy liberal; those two and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards were only “populists.” Here’s a sampling from Saturday:
Dismayed by the prospect of Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee, conservative Christian leaders are intensifying discussions about jointly backing an alternative candidate from a field reshaped by Rick Santorum’s strong performance in Iowa.
The plan disclosed this week for dozens of conservative Christian leaders and political strategists to meet in Texas next Friday and Saturday, a week before the South Carolina primary, is the latest of several such efforts in the last six weeks to seek an elusive unity. Among the conveners of next week’s gathering are luminaries of the evangelical movement, including James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, and Donald E. Wildmon, the retired president of the American Family Association.
Many religious conservatives question Mr. Romney’s bona fides on what to them are non-negotiable issues, like opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Pointing to the large conservative electoral gains in 2010 and Mr. Obama’s weakened position, they see a rare opportunity this year to put a “true conservative” in the White House, and many say they will be disappointed if Mr. Romney wins the nomination.
Evangelicals are haunted by what happened in the South Carolina primary in 2008, when many of them did not rush to support Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who had won in Iowa. Former Senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee took some of his potential votes, allowing Senator John McCain, who never won the affection of evangelicals, a crucial victory.
“We’re moving closer to the point where a decision needs to be made,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian conservative group. “I think people understand that the stakes are very high.”
Even after the Florida primary on Jan. 31, it should be “arithmetically possible” for one of the more conservative candidates to wrest the nomination from Mr. Romney, said Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. But three stiff conditions would have to be met, he said: a largely unified social conservative vote, adequate financing for primaries that in some states require $2 million per week for television advertisements, and decent local campaign infrastructures.
While some Christian conservatives are reluctant to support Mr. Gingrich because of his marital history and other questions from the past, the current argument is largely over which candidate has the best chance of winning.