Power Struggle: Who Will Be the Religious Right's New Kingpin?
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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came out of nowhere last year and rocketed to lofty heights in the world of the Religious Right after she was tapped by U.S. Sen. John McCain to be his running mate on the GOP ticket.
Palin, who is an evangelical Christian, definitely fired up the Religious Right wing of the Republican Party. At a September meeting of the Family Research Council in Washington, Palin was all the rage - even though she did not attend in person. Attendees sported hot pink stickers reading "Palin Power," and the Alaska governor was repeatedly praised from the speakers' platform. Palin was talked about constantly, while McCain barely got a mention.
Palin, 45, would be a young leader who could conceivably shepherd the Religious Right for many years. But there is one drawback: It's not clear she wants to job.
Even before campaign 2008 drew to a close, rumors were circulating that Palin was laying the groundwork for a 2012 run at the Republican presidential nomination. The GOP field is likely to be crowded that year, but Palin will probably have few problems lining up Christian conservative support (although the pregnancy and subsequent unwed motherhood of her teenaged daughter, Bristol, has created something of a scandal.)
But it's unclear if she can move beyond that base, which failed to deliver for the Republicans in 2008. Palin's addition to the Republican ticket sparked a burst of enthusiasm for the McCain campaign, and the two soared in the polls - but only briefly.
Palin made a number of missteps in the media and, following a disastrous interview with Katie Couric of CBS, the McCain campaign essentially kept her away from reporters as much as possible (with the exception of friendly sources like the Fox News Channel and evangelical Christian outlets).
Palin is up for reelection as Alaska governor in 2010. Assuming she wins that race, she could jump into the GOP presidential campaign at any point in 2011. If unsuccessful, she might be looking for work in 2014.
Would Palin consider a Religious Right sinecure, or does she have her heart set on some other type of political office? It's too early to tell at this point; ultimately, the questions can only be decided by the scope of Palin's ambition.
As president of the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, Tony Perkins would seem to be the logical candidate to assume the leadership of the Religious Right if others step down or retire.
But it's not that simple. Perkins, a former Louisiana state senator, has led the FRC since September of 2003. The organization, an offshoot of Dobson's Focus on the Family, became the largest Religious Right group in the nation's capital, but that's only because the Christian Coalition collapsed. The FRC has not seen spectacular growth under Perkins. Its budget is about $12 million annually, less than half of the Christian Coalition's during its heyday.
Perkins is not especially charismatic and is not a minister; he doesn't have his own radio or TV platform. His frequent appearances on the Fox News Channel are workmanlike but not especially energizing.
Perkins also has something of a checkered past when it comes to race relations. In 1996, Perkins, while managing the U.S. Senate campaign of Louisiana state legislator Woody Jenkins, paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and notorious white supremacist David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list. In 2001, while laying the groundwork for an unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization that grew out of the White Citizens Council. (The White Citizens Council was formed in the 1950s to protest public school desegregation as mandated by the Supreme Court in 1954.)