Spokesman: ‘Important to reach out to every single supporter’
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Bush, seeking to mobilize religious conservatives for his reelection campaign, has asked church-going volunteers to turn over church membership directories, campaign officials said on Thursday.
In a move sharply criticized both by religious leaders and civil libertarians, the Bush-Cheney campaign has issued a guide listing about two-dozen “duties” and a series of deadlines for organizing support among conservative church congregations.
• stop ignoring America’s dismal human rights record
• stop his support for human rights violations (e.g. America’s use and promotion of the death penalty and America’s use of torture
• stop violating – and fighting against – international law,
• to stop supporting cults and extremist groups such as the Unification Church and the Scientology organization, and to
• stop claiming the alleged support of God as an excuse for furthering his own agenda
A copy of the guide obtained by Reuters directs religious volunteers to send church directories to state campaign committees, identify new churches that can be organized by the Bush campaign and talk to clergy members about holding voter registration drives.
The document, distributed to campaign coordinators across the country earlier this year, also recommends that volunteers distribute voter guides in church and use Sunday service programs for get-out-the-vote drives.
“We expect this election to be potentially as close as 2000, so every vote counts and it’s important to reach out to every single supporter of President Bush,” campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
But the Rev. Richard Land, who deals with ethics and religious liberty issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, a key Bush constituency, said he was “appalled.”
“First of all, I would not want my church directories being used that way,” he told Reuters in an interview, predicting failure for the Bush plan.
The conservative Protestant denomination, whose 16 million members strongly backed Bush in 2000, held regular drives that encouraged church-goers to “vote their values,” said Land.
“But it’s one thing for us to do that. It’s a totally different thing for a partisan campaign to come in and try to organize a church. A lot of pastors are going to say: ‘Wait a minute, bub’,” he added.
The guide surfaced as a spate of opinion polls showed Bush’s reelection campaign facing a tough battle. (Poll: Sending troops to Iraq a mistake (/2004/ALLPOLITICS/06/24/poll.iraq/index.html); )
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed Bush running neck-and-neck with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (/ELECTION/2004/special/president/candidates/kerry.new.html) among registered voters, 47 percent of whom said they now believed the president had misled Americans about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
The Bush campaign has also been spending heavily on television ads, only to see the president’s approval ratings slump to new lows.
Stanzel said the campaign ended the month of June with $64 million on hand.
He had no figures on how much Bush has raised in June.
At the end of May, Bush had raised $213.4 million and spent all but $63 million.
The latest effort to marshal religious support also drew fire from civil liberties activists concerned about the constitutional separation of church and state.
“Any coordination between the Bush campaign and church leaders would clearly be illegal,” said a statement from the activist group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.