Social and religious conservatives in Illinois were an energized catalyst for victory in former U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald's 1998 bid and an obstinate albatross in Judy Baar-Topinka's 2006 gubernatorial bid loss against former Governor Rod Blagojevich.
The hot topic among Republicans statewide after last November's election was why social conservative Bill Brady lost and social liberals Mark Kirk and Judy Baar-Topinka won statewide races. The conclusion drawn among many was that Illinois social conservatives held their noses and voted for Republican social liberals while social liberals refused to extend the same courtesy to the gubernatorial candidate, a staunch social conservative. But somehow the election's wins and losses were interpreted to mean that social conservatism had become an irrelevent relic of the 80s Reagan years, and issues such as abortion and gay rights mattered no more.
Nothing could be further from the truth in Iowa where presidential candidates are vying for early caucus support, the Washington Times reported today.
Indeed, it is social and religious conservatives that are driving the primary process in Iowa, because they've gotten involved in the Republican Party at the local levels, and they're winnowing out the candidates who refuse to make socially-conservative stands. The Washington Times writes:
Conversely, the state landscape also could pose hurdles to GOP hopefuls who are downplaying cultural issues.
All-but-declared candidates like Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour have made it clear their campaigns will be focused on the economy. And Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who also is weighing a bid, has suggested the party call “a truce” on battles over divisive social issues while the economy is in such trouble.
Social and religious conservatives here blanch.
“What would a truce look like?” asked Danny Carroll, who is with the conservative group the Family Leader, which led the charge against the judges. “To those true believers, other things just don’t get them out of bed in the morning. If you called a truce, people would just say ‘I’ll stay home and do something else.’”
Illinois neighbors Iowa, and overall, the midwestern region is common sense and pragmatic in its choices for political candidates. But Republican Party chiefs uncomfortable with social conservatism do all they can to play down social issues, insisting those issues are passe' and anyone focused on them doesn't really understand Illinois politics.
Still, as Carroll said above, social issues are a driving force to getting evangelicals and conservative Catholics as well as social conservatives out to volunteer, work and vote.
How should Illinois take on this ideological chasm among conservative voters in 2012?