Religious campaigns to help GOP candidates fail in N.J., Virginia.

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Religious intervention in statewide elections in New Jersey and Virginia failed last month, when voters rejected candidates supported by the Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

In Virginia, two Religious Right organizations produced "voter guides" on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Earley and other GOP nominees. TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition claimed it distributed over a million guides, while American Renewal (the political arm of the Family Research Council) claimed to have distributed almost a million guides as well.

In New Jersey, the Christian Coalition also said it distributed over a million voter guides, which critics charged were clearly stacked to support Republican gubernatorial candidate Brett Schundler. In addition, Schundler benefited from the implicit endorsement of the state's Catholic bishops, who issued an Oct. 22 "teaching" urging Catholic voters to make abortion restrictions a priority issue. (Schundler is strongly anti-abortion.)

Despite the intervention by religious leaders, Earley and Schundler failed in their bids for public office. Earley was defeated by Democrat Mark Warner, 52 percent to 47 percent, despite the state's GOP tilt in recent years. In New Jersey, Democrat Jim McGreevy trounced Schundler by 14 points.

Americans United said there are lessons to be learned from the campaign results. "The 2001 elections demonstrated that voters make up their own minds about candidates and don't respond to religious directives," said AU's Lynn. "One can only hope these groups realize that Americans don't want our religious communities herded into partisan voting blocs."

Lynn noted that the results in Virginia are particularly stinging for the Religious Right because the state is home to TV preachers such as Robertson and Jerry Falwell. In addition to Coalition voter guides, Robertson contributed at least $35,000 to Republican Earley's campaign, according to news media accounts.

Earley, a long-time Religious Right ally, has been especially helpful to Robertson. While serving as attorney general, Early declined to prosecute Robertson for fraud when the TV preacher solicited donations for a relief plane that actually was being used for a diamond-mining operation in Africa.

AU's Lynn said he believes an increasing number of churches are refusing to hand out the Religious Right voter guides. Although the Christian Coalition maintains that its guides are "non-partisan," independent...

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