Religious Right Called the Tune, but Voters Wouldn’t Dance


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Moderate and progressive voters propelled Religious Right-backed candidates to defeat Tuesday in races from Congress to statehouses to governor’s mansions in every region of the United States.

Religious Right-backed candidates lost key races for the U.S. Senate in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Washington and lost governor’s races in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Iowa. Out of 13 hotly contested U.S. House races identified by People For the American Way as bellwether races for the Religious Right, their candidates lost nine and won four – and those four were all incumbents.

People For the American Way President Carole Shields said turning out the progressive based proved easier, because of the extremism of the Republican-controlled Congress. “Congress danced to the tune of the Religious Right’s piper and the voters didn’t like the music,” Shields said. “The Religious Right pushed the congressional GOP’s agenda so far to the right that moderate and progressive voters rose up to take back the ballot box.”

In the 13 House races closely monitored by PFAW, the nine losing Religious Right candidates were:

  • Republican Bob Dornan, who lost to Rep. Loretta Sanchez in California
  • Tom Bordonaro, who lost to Rep. Lois Capps in California
  • Republican Mark Baker, who lost to Rep. Lane Evans in Illinois
  • Republican Gary Hofmeister, who lost to Rep. Julia Carson in Indiana
  • Republican Rep. Vince Snowbarger, who lost to Democratic challenger Dennis Moore in Kansas
  • Republican Gex “Jay” Williams, who lost to Democrat Ken Lucas in Kentucky
  • Republican Molly Bordonaro, who lost to Democrat David Wu in Oregon
  • Republican Rep. Rick White, who lost to Democratic challenger Jay Inslee in Washington
  • Republican Don Benton, who lost to Brian Baird in Washington

The winning Religious Right candidates were Rep. Helen Chenoweth in Idaho, Rep. John Hostettler in Indiana, Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio and Rep. Jack Metcalf in Washington, all entrenched incumbents who dramatically outspent their opponents.

Shields credited the victories to grassroots activism and a sentiment among voters that it is time for Congress to move on to issues of concern to the American people.

“This year, our newly formed PAC, the People For the American Way Voters Alliance, committed significant resources to voter activity,” said Mike Lux, PFAW Political Director. “We invested heavily in three states – Wisconsin, Washington and California — and look how our efforts paid off. Progressives in those states won three close Senate races, the California governor’s race, half a dozen crucial congressional races and numerous important state legislative races.

The re-emergence of a progressive voting electorate came after People For the American Way launched a $2 million national ad campaign with the message “Let’s Move On.” The ad buy was intended generally to motivate progressive voters. Buys were also strategically calibrated to drive voter turnout in key markets, such as Des Moines, Iowa, where Democrats captured both the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s races; and Las Vegas, where U.S. Sen. Harry Reid won re-election.

In Wisconsin, Democrats recaptured the state Senate, Tammy Baldwin is headed for Congress and Russ Feingold won re-election. In Washington, two out of three Religious Right-backed congressional candidates were defeated. And in California, pro-education candidates won at every level.

Shields said that a radio spot recorded by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison helped increase voter turnout, particularly among African-Americans. The spot was sponsored by People For the American Way Foundation and ran heavily in North and South Carolina, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Milwaukee.